MYSTERY surrounds the discovery of a 7,000-year-old mass grave containing 38 skeletons – and only one was not decapitated.
The burial site was discovered by archaeologists at Vrable-Velke Lehemby in Slovakia, one of the largest European Neolithic settlements.
Preliminary studies suggest the heads were intentionally removed after death, with only one skeleton, a child under the age of 6, having the skull intact, a study has shown.
Archaeologists are now trying to figure out why the heads were so systematically removed, with theories suggesting it could be meant as a warning, a burial ritual, or a way to honor the dead.
Katharina Fuchs, an anthropologist at the University of Kiel, Germany who worked on the case, said the headless bodies differ from traditional burials found in the same region.
According to Fuchs, initial examinations of the remains indicate that the beheadings were premeditated.
She said that on the bodies well enough preserved to see the neck bones, the first vertebra just below the skull was still intact.
This would suggest that the head was cut off with very sharp tools and not severed during combat.
Katharina told Business Insider, “When you were violently decapitated, like in the Middle Ages with a sword or an axe, you saw lacerations and also shattered vertebrae in the neck area.”
However, Martin Furholt, a professor of prehistory and social archeology at the University of Kiel and project leader, said it was unclear whether the heads were removed before or after death.
Research has detailed accounts of Neolithic people decapitating bodies after death, taking the head with them.
Prof Furholt told the news outlet: “People have often kept these heads in their homes or dumped them elsewhere.”
Fuchs added that it was entirely possible that these heads were taken as an act of violence or as a deterrent and the heads taken as trophies.
Two other notable mass graves were found in the area at Talheim and Herxheim.
The remains of 34 men, women and children were discovered in Talheim, Germany, and are believed to have been massacred and left to rot by a neighboring village.
While in Herxheim, also in Germany, about 450 people were found in a ditch, the bodies were completely dismembered with cut marks on the bones and skulls.
This would suggest that flesh was cut from the bones before the bodies were thrown into the pit.
A 2009 study suggested that this could be evidence of ritual cannibalism, although this hypothesis has been rejected by other scholars who consider this site to be a large necropolis.
Furholt said that Neolithic people may have viewed the bodies as magical powers and their bodies helped increase the strength of the stockades.
Vrable-Velke Lehemby consisted of three settlements dating from 5,250 to 4,950 BC. were occupied.
Previous excavations of the site had uncovered other headless skeletons, but these were more sparsely distributed and interspersed with more normal burials.