Evidence of a 7,000-Year-Old Prehistoric Massacre

Cranial injury to an 8-year-old child from the Neolithic mass grave. 
(Image: Christian Meyer)
Cranial injury to an 8-year-old child from the Neolithic mass grave. (Image: Christian Meyer)

Scientists have found what they believe to be rare evidence of a prehistoric massacre in Europe. The discovery included bones of 26 men, women, and children that were buried in a mass grave. The 7,000-year-old mass grave contains the remains from some of the continent’s first farmers, and they bear terrible wounds.

7,000-year-old massacre grave site discovered in Germany:

Archaeologists who painstakingly examined the bones have said that they found blunt force marks to the heads, arrow wounds, and deliberate efforts to smash at least half of the victims’ shins, which may have been either to stop them from running away, or as a grim message to survivors.

Christian Meyer, one of the authors of the study said: “It was either torture or mutilation. We can’t say for sure whether the victims were still alive.”

According to Phys Org: “Meyer said the findings from Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten bolster theories put forward after the earlier discovery of two other grave sites in Germany and Austria. At all three sites, the victims and the perpetrators appeared to have been from the Linearbandkeramik—or LBK—culture, a farming people who arrived in central Europe about 5,500 B.C. Their name derives from the German phrase for ‘linear band ceramics,’ a reference to the style of their pottery.

“Intriguingly, the sites have all been dated toward the end of the LBK’s 600-year presence, suggesting that members of this culture—which is thought to have developed in what is now Hungary and spread along the Danube River—may have turned on each other, Phys Org added.”

Meyer said: “It’s about finding patterns. One mass grave was spectacular, but it was just a single grave. But when several such sites are found from the same period, then a pattern emerges.”

A perimortem fracture in a reassembled adult human tibia from the mass grave. (Image: Christian Meyer)

A perimortem fracture in a reassembled adult human tibia from the mass grave.
(Image: Christian Meyer)

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The grave was discovered in 2006, when road builders uncovered a narrow ditch that was filled with human bones.

Meyer, from the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz, told IFLScience: “As this is not the first massacre to be found from this farming culture and this period of time, we already suspected to find some signs of perimortem violence in the bones, but still there were the quite surprising injuries to the tibia and fibula as well. This is a rather new pattern, which adds to our knowledge and possible interpretation of sites like these.”

Meyer said: “The LBK population had expanded considerably, and this increases the potential for conflict. Also, the LBK were farmers, they settled. So unlike hunter gatherers, who could move away to avoid conflict, these people couldn’t just escape, add to this the fact that there may have been a period of drought that constrained resources, causing conflicts to erupt.”

Skull injury in a 3- to 5-year-old child. (Image: Christian Meyer)

Skull injury in a 3- to 5-year-old child. (Image: Christian Meyer)

With the absence of any young women, Meyer said: “It’s likely that the young women, who are missing in the grave, were kidnapped by the attackers.”

According to The Guardian, Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said that alongside Talheim and Asparn, this latest massacre discovery fits a pattern of common and murderous warfare.

“The only reasonable interpretation of these cases, as here, is that a whole typically-sized Linear Pottery culture hamlet or small village was wiped out by killing the majority of its inhabitants, and kidnapping the young women. This represents yet another nail in the coffin of those who have claimed that war was rare or ritualized, or less awful in prehistory or, in this instance, the early Neolithic,” Keeley said.

This is all speculation of course, but with more research, we may be able to piece together what happened in our past.

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