Read a few articles about this tonight and I thought it was interesting and a bit macabre. First an excerpt from the first article I read at
, followed by additional information I was able to dig
Children's skulls found at the edges of Bronze Age settlements may have been a gruesome gift for the local lake gods.
The children's skulls were discovered encircling the perimeter of ancient villages around lakes in Switzerland and Germany. Some had suffered ax blows
and other head traumas.
Though the children probably weren't human sacrifices killed to appease the gods, they may have been offered after death as gifts to ward off
flooding, said study co-author Benjamin Jennings, an archaeologist at Basel University in Switzerland
Since the 1920s, archaeologists have known that ancient villages dotted Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany. However, it wasn't until the 1970s
and 1980s that many of the sites were excavated, yielding hunting tools, animal bones, ceramics, jewelry, watchtowers, gates and more than 160
dwellings. Tree rings on wooden artifacts from the sites suggest people lived there at different periods between 3,800 and 2,600 years ago.
The researchers' hypothesis sounds reasonable considering the placement of the skulls and what's known about the occupants of the settlements, but I'd
be interested in hearing other possible interpretations. It's believed that the children likely died in war because the non-uniform nature of the
wounds indicates something other than a ritual sacrifice and examinations of teeth and skeletal remains did not reveal any signs of illness that would
have potentially led to euthanasia. This also seems highly speculative.
A particularly interesting detail is that the skulls and other remains are believed to have been disinterred some time after the initial burial and
placed along the palisades at a later date, presumably as a result of changing water levels. I didn't come across anything that explains in detail how
researchers came to the conclusion that these remains had been previously buried, but if that's the case, it would support the notion that these
weren't ritual sacrifices.
3,800 to 2,600 years ago is a fairly large span of time and no specific culture or locations were named in the above source but looking at the
abstract of the source paper, published in Antiquity
, the sites are in the Circum-Alpine
region. Here's a reconstruction of a late bronze age lake dwelling from a University of
page for one of the projects doing research at these lakeside settlements, including Lake Federsee in Germany and Lake Nussbaum in
There is a museum at Lake Federsee (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Federsee Museum
has quite a few pictures of artifacts and reconstruction of pile-dwellings. While I was looking through the site for more information
about the lake dwellers, I hit the jackpot and found a picture of two of these childrens' skulls:
The caption for the picture reads "Two children from the skull 'Wasserburg Buchau' (ritual murder?), 1000 BC." This led me to the
Wikipedia page for Wasserburg Buchau
and the following information about these skulls:
Between 1920 and 1938, were here during the first excavation the skulls of six individuals, five children and adolescents and a woman discovered
at regular intervals along the palisade, which, contrary to the established practice of the urnfield culture had not been burned. Injuries to
the two skulls obtained suggest that these, taught intentionally and in an elevated position with a blunt or semi-sharp instrument, such as a stick or
a hoe and the skull were then deposited at regular intervals. Meanwhile, one takes for a new investigation in 1998 that it was possibly here to cultic
or magical ritual acts motivated about deterrence or protection, for which the composition of the group calls.  In fact, to be found in the later
Bronze Age documents, such as in the Swabian and Franconian Alb, that human sacrifices were common, typically prevail above all remains of women,
children and young people in the present case as well.
So it seems the skulls are believed to be from the Urnsfield culture
a late bronze age people
named for their funerary customs, consisting of cremation followed by placing of the ashes in urns and burying the urns in fields. Given this
information, I'm wondering if the University of Basel researchers are correct after all. If the common funerary practice was to cremate the dead, why
weren't these individuals also cremated?
Journal Article, Gifts for the Gods, Univeristy of Basel
Archaeological Institute of America - Archaeology
2014-7-14 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)