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Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light

Ritualised heads on stakes. Stone Age society and Stone Age people’s conception of the world were more complex than previously believed. This according to new analyses of skulls found in Motala, Sweden.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
Anterior view of crania F296 showing well-preserved facial bones 
[Credit: Sara Gummesson et al., 2018]
“The majority of the crania have traces of healed injuries in the same area of the head. It seems repetitive and there are differences between women and men”, Anna Kjellström says. She works at the Stockholm University Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory and she is one of researchers who have examined the skulls.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
Cranium F318 with wooden stake [Credit: Fredrik Hallgren]
The skulls come from a former lake in Motala, in eastern-central Sweden, excavated 2009–2013. Archaeologists found, among other things, remnants from at least ten people: nine adults and one infant. Two of the skulls were still mounted on stakes and at least seven had traces of healed injuries not caused by falling by incident.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
These skulls, collected from the Kanaljorden burial, show signs of blunt-force trauma
[Credit: Karin Berggren and Fredrik Hallgren; Antiquity 2018]
The women’s head injuries were in the back and on the right side of the head while the male skulls had injuries on the top of the head and in the face. The researchers also believe that after death the bodies were stored or buried in another place and then transported to the place where they were found.

People of importance

“The fact that so many had healed injuries suggests that these people were special in some way”, Anna Kjellström says.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
A model showing the local topography at Kanaljorden. The black outline details where the excavation
took place. The black dots show the burial's location in the ancient lake
[Credit: Karin Berggren and Fredrik Hallgren; Antiquity 2018]
The great number of findings and their concentration to one place make the researchers believe that these people were of importance. There are no similar findings in Europe, Anna Kjellström says.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
The burial was large, about 39 feet by 46 feet (12 by 14 meters). The bottom of the burial was made of large stones and
wooden stakes. On top of the packed stone, Stone Age people placed the bones in a certain order. The humans (red) were
in the middle, while the brown bears (blue) were south of the humans and the wild boar (yellow) were southeast
of the humans [Credit: Sara Gummesson et al./Antiquity 2018]
During the Old Stone Age period, 8,000 to 7,500 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers living in smaller groups following animals according to season. But there were places where many groups of people gathered at certain times during the year. These places were of great ceremonial importance and people could build more permanent structures there.

Complex Stone Ace society

“Our findings give a more nuanced image of the Stone Age – it was a complex society with clear signs of planning and organisation”, Anna Kjellström says. The handling of human remains allows researchers to get an idea of the large world of religious notions that existed during the Stone Age.

Keep your head high – the Stone Age in a new light
Cut marks on the bear's jaw that are indicative of butchery
[Credit: Sara Gummesson et al.; Antiquity 2018]
“Placing heads on stakes may have been some kind of intimidation tactic to scare enemies, but the action might as well have had a different meaning for ancient people than today. In any case, it must have been a striking and spectacular view”, Anna Kjellström says.

The study was published in the journal Antiquity.

Source: Stockholm University [February 22, 2018]


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