The oldest burial documented in Mesoamerica?

From guardian.co.uk:

Archaeologists in southern Mexico have discovered the 2,700-year-old tomb of a dignitary inside a pyramid that may be the oldest such burial documented in Mesoamerica.

The tomb held a man aged about 50, who was buried with jade collars, pyrite and obsidian artefacts and ceramic vessels. Archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga said the tomb dates to between 500 and 700BC.

“We think this is one of the earliest discoveries of the use of a pyramid as a tomb, not only as a religious site or temple,” Gallaga said.

Pre-Hispanic cultures built pyramids mainly as representations of the levels leading from the underworld to the sky; the highest point usually held a temple.

The tomb was found at a site built by Zoque Indians in Chiapa de Corzo, in southern Chiapas state. It may be almost 1,000 years older than the better-known pyramid tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal at the Palenque archaeological site, also in Chiapas.

The man – probably a high priest or ruler of Chiapa de Corzo, a prominent settlement at the time – was buried in a stone chamber. Marks in the wall indicate wooden roof supports were used to create the tomb, but the wood long ago collapsed under the weight of the pyramid built above…

Read the rest of this article here.

This discovery is also featured here.

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German excavation reveals signs of mass cannibalism (update)

Was it mass cannibalism, ritual slaughter or both? Archaeologists who unearthed the remains of 500 Stone Age corpses in the German town of Herxheim say the meat was cut off their bones as if they were livestock. One conclusion is that the people were eaten — after volunteering to be sacrificed.

How do you carve up a cow? First you cut the meat off the bones. You start by severing the muscles from the joints with a sharp knife. The fibrous meat can then easily be scraped off, from top to bottom. After you’ve removed the flesh there’s still a lot of goodness left. Deep in the long bones and vertebrae lies the marrow. To get at this delicacy you smash the bones and scrape out the marrow or simply boil it out in water. What’s left is a pile of naked bones with traces of scratching and scraping as well as the small debris of bone that contained marrow.

Archaeologists found just such a pile — a huge one — when they were excavating a Stone Age settlement in the small town of Herxheim in south-western Germany. The only difference is that the bones aren’t from cattle. Researchers found the carefully scraped remains of some 500 humans, and they haven’t even excavated half the site. “We expect the number of dead to be twice as high,” said Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, project leader of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

That’s a lot of corpses for a tiny Stone Age village. There were 10 buildings at most here in the last phase of the Linear Pottery culture of the European Neolithic Age around 5,000 to 4,950 years BC. The corpses weren’t native to this area, researchers have discovered. They came from all over Europe — from the area of what is now Paris, from the Moselle River 100 kilometers to the northwest and even from the Elbe River valley some 400 kilometers away. The broken bits of pottery lying between their ribs reveal their origin. It’s the so-called Linear Pottery that gave the entire population group its name: decorated with linear patterns pressed into the moist clay while it was being made.

Butchered by Experts

The strangers brought only the finest pottery from their home regions — in many cases even more beautiful than the pottery they placed inside the graves of their own dead at home. But the pottery was smashed to pieces and scattered over the bones, along with brand new millstones and stone blades. Everything was hacked to pieces, broken up, mixed together and poured into pits.

The anthropolgist Bruno Boulestin conducted a close examination of the bone fragments. He published his findings from one pit eight meters long in the latest edition of Antiquity magazine. The pit contained a total of 1,906 bone fragments from at least 10 people. Two of them were infants or still-born children, one was a fetus in the 34th to 36th week of pregnancy, there were two children aged six and 15 and six adults, at least one of whom was male.

All of them — babies, children, adults — were butchered by expert hands while the bones were still fresh, as the breaks and cuts show. Boulestin concluded that the human bones bore the same marks as those of slaughtered livestock, and that the dead of Herxheim were prepared as meals. He believes that marks on the bones indicate that body parts were cooked on skewers. His conclusions contradict other researchers who believe the meat was taken off the bones as part of a burial ritual, and wasn’t eaten.

No Signs of Battle Wounds

Who were the dead? Conquered enemies perhaps? Probably not, because the bones showed no signs of battle wounds. None of the skulls found was smashed, and there were no arrow heads between the ribs. The dead of Herxheim appear to have been in good health when they died. Their joints weren’t worn down, their teech were in exceptionally good condition and there was no sign of malnutrition.

The theory of conquered enemies also seems unlikely given that the small group of Herxheim villagers is unlikely to have vanquished people hundreds of kilometers away and dragged 1,000 of them back to their little hamlet in the space of just 50 years. “One could also imagine that people volunteered to come here and be ritually sacrificed,” Zeeb-Lanz told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

So what happed in Herxheim at the start of the fifth millennium BC? It’s clear that the hamlet quickly came to fame. It had been a sleepy, uneventful place since the so-called Flomborn Phase around 5,300 years BC. But around the turn of the millennium something happened that caused people from all over Europe to make pilgrimages to this place — a sensational feat of logistics and communication for that age.

Only 50 Years of Fame

But it didn’t last long. By 4,950 BC everything was over. After that there were no more deaths in Herxheim because the settlement ceased to exist. It’s a puzzling phenomenon for archaeologists because 50 years is an extremely short time for a place of such significance. “And 50 year is the maximum,” says Zeeb-Lanz. “It could all have happened in just two years or even five weeks.”

It’s clear that it wasn’t hunger that drove the inhabitants of this mysterious hamlet to carve up humans. What they did with their victims was part of a ritual, a religious ceremony. This includes the mysterious treatment of human skulls. First the skin was peeled off them. All it took was a cut across the length of the head and the skin could be peeled off the sides. Then a blow to the face at the front and the base of the neck at the back, and two blows each at the sides — the result looks like a drinking vessel.

“But probably nobody drank from them. The edges are still so sharp today that one would cut one’s lips on them,” says Zeeb-Lanz. Archeologists found these prepared skulls piled together in one place. “The more research conduct, the more mysterious this place becomes.”

But did the Herxheimers really devour the dead? It’s impossible to prove that archaeologically. Boulestin is sure they did, but not all members of the excavation team agree with him. Project leader Zeeb-Lanz is careful too: “We mustn’t forget that this was no giant settlement. Who is supposed to have eaten all this?”

SOURCE

Contested signs of mass cannibalism

At a settlement in what is now southern Germany, the menu turned gruesome 7,000 years ago. Over a period of perhaps a few decades, hundreds of people were butchered and eaten before parts of their bodies were thrown into oval pits, a new study suggests.

Cannibalism at the village, now called Herxheim, may have occurred during ceremonies in which people from near and far brought slaves, war prisoners or other dependents for ritual sacrifice, propose anthropologist Bruno Boulestin of the University of Bordeaux 1 in France and his colleagues. A social and political crisis in central Europe at that time triggered various forms of violence, the researchers suspect.

“Human sacrifice at Herxheim is a hypothesis that’s difficult to prove right now, but we have evidence that several hundred people were eaten over a brief period,” Boulestin says. Skeletal markings indicate that human bodies were butchered in the same way as animals.

Herxheim offers rare evidence of cannibalism during Europe’s early Neolithic period, when farming first spread, the researchers report in the December Antiquity. Artifacts found at Herxheim come from the Linear Pottery Culture, which flourished in western and central Europe from about 7,500 to 7,000 years ago.

Two archaeologists who have studied human bones unearthed a decade ago at Herxheim reject the new cannibalism hypothesis. In a joint statement to Science News, Jörg Orschiedt of the University of Leipzig in Germany and Miriam Haidle of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt say that Boulestin’s evidence better fits a scenario in which the dead were reburied at Herxheim following dismemberment and removal of flesh from bones. Evidence of ceremonial reburial practices has been reported for many ancient societies.

If further work confirms large-scale cannibalism at Herxheim, “this would be very surprising indeed, simply in terms of the scale involved,” remarks archaeologist Rick Schulting of the University of Oxford in England.

Until now, the only convincing evidence of Neolithic cannibalism came from 6,000-year-old bones in a French cave, Boulestin holds. A 1986 report concluded that the remains of various animals and at least six people were butchered and discarded there. Again, Orschiedt and Haidle say, reburial rather than cannibalism may explain those findings.

Herxheim was first excavated from 1996 to 1999, yielding remains of a large structure, pottery and what appeared to be two parallel ditches encircling the settlement. Closer inspection revealed that the ditches had been formed by overlapping pits that had been dug over several centuries, apparently not exclusively to hold the dead.

Initial excavations of these pits yielded deposits of large numbers of human and dog bones.

Work from 2005 to 2008 — led by Andrea Zeeb-Lanz and Fabian Haack of the archaeology division of Germany’s Directorate General for Cultural Heritage — unearthed additional human bones, mainly skulls and limb bones bearing incisions. Remains of an estimated 500 people have been found so far.

Pottery resting among the bones accumulated over no more than a few decades, the researchers say. Some pieces came from Neolithic sites located 400 kilometers from Herxheim.

The pits that surrounded Herxheim provided no protection from invaders but may have marked a symbolic boundary for a ceremonial settlement, Boulestin proposes. At first, Boulestin’s team, like Orschiedt and Haidle, thought that the dead were brought to Herxheim for ceremonial reburial.

But Boulestin and his colleagues’ opinion changed after they analyzed 217 reassembled human bones from one deposit, representing at least 10 individuals.

Damage typical of animal butchery appears on the bones, including that produced by a technique to separate the ribs from the spine, the scientists say. Heads were skinned and muscles removed from the brain case in order to remove the skullcap. Incisions and scrapes on jaws indicate that tongues were cut out.

Scrape marks inside the broken ends of limb bones indicate that marrow was removed.

People most likely made the chewing marks found near intentionally broken ends of hand and arm bones, Boulestin says.

Ongoing work at Herxheim has found signs of cannibalism on the bones of hundreds of other individuals, with only a few exceptions, he adds.

But proving that ancient Europeans consumed human body parts “is nearly impossible,” Orschiedt and Haidle assert. The absence of lower jaws and skull bases from the new Herxheim material favors a reburial scenario, the researchers say, in which these components were ritually removed before skulls were placed in pits.

Boulestin’s notion of a Neolithic social and political crisis rests on generally accepted evidence of massacres of dozens of people at three central European sites approximately 7,000 years ago. Other regional settlements, including Herxheim, were abandoned around that time.

Planned chemical analyses of bones from Herxheim will indicate whether some individuals grew up eating foods from distant regions, a sign that they were transported to the site. Such evidence would support either a cannibalism or reburial hypothesis.

It’s not yet clear that a widespread crisis actually affected early Neolithic peoples, comments archaeologist Nick Thorpe of the University of Winchester in England.

Whatever actually happened at Herxheim, facial bones were smashed beyond recognition, “giving an impression of the destruction of individual identity, a kind of psychic violence against the person,” Thorpe says.

SOURCE

2,000-year-old Roman body found in West Sussex

A 2,000-year-old body has been uncovered in North Bersted. The rare find has excited archaeologists who have labeled the discovery as being of international importance.

The skeleton is believed to have been a warrior who died around the time of the Roman invasion of England in AD43. He is likely to have been a prince or rich person of some status because of the quantity and quality of goods found with his remains.

Dr Steve Ford, a director of Thames Valley Archaeological Services, said the site had yielded secrets beyond compare anywhere in this country.

Of particular interest were two highly decorated bronze latticework sheets. These were probably used to cover a shield.

“There is no comparison for this metalwork that we know of,” said Dr Fox. “It might well be unique. It’s a very intricate piece of work for its time.

Professor Barry Cunliffe, the professor of European archaeology at Oxford University, visited the site when he was in Chichester and said he knew of nothing like this metalwork.

“The provisional date of the burial from the associated pottery indicates that it took place either at the end of the Late Iron Age or just into the Roman period, perhaps around 40-60AD.”

“The Iron Age people of this age were in essence pro-Roman and the Emperor Claudius launched an invasion, initially, to restore the local king Verica to his throne. The deceased may have been one of the local ruling caste, proud to be buried with his Roman goods.”

The grave of the oldest body ever found around the Bognor Regis area was unearthed by archaeologists who have been given time to explore what lies underneath the surface of farmland before it is covered by housing.

Allowing the dig is a condition of the planning permission granted by Arun District Council to the developers, Berkeley Homes and Persimmon Homes, before they use the land for 650 homes and part of the Bognor northern relief road.

The requirements of the dig have been set out by the county council’s archaeologist, Mark Taylor. The digging has been based north of North Bersted Street. The discovery of the grave was made a few weeks ago but it has been kept under wraps until now to allow the valuable metalwork and the body to be removed to safety for detailed examination and away from the unwanted attention of illegal prospectors.

Digging has been going on for several months. Dr Ford said the isolated burial was the main point of interest of the work. It was found just 40cms, or 16ins, below the surface.

“The deceased, a mature male more than 30 years old, was laid out in a grave and was accompanied by grave goods.”

“These comprised three large pottery jars placed at the end of the grave, presumably containing offerings to the gods or food for the journey into the afterlife, an iron knife and several items made of bronze.

“One appears to be a helmet and the other a shield boss. Also present are two latticework sheets highly decorated, perhaps used to cover a shield.

“The burial and its grave goods seem to have been placed in a large coffin or casket bound by iron hoops with an iron-framed structure place on top,” he explained.

The bronze objects have been lifted in blocks of soil by a specialist conservator for careful examination and conservation in a laboratory before they are studied in detail.

The North Bersted burial shared similarities with famous graves of the Late Iron Age in places such as Welwyn Garden City, St Albans and Colchester. All of them were graves of princes or chiefs, or possibly priests, he added.

Also revealed in the excavations were revealed Bronze Age boundary ditches and occupation, a small hoard of four Middle Bronze Age bronze axes, or palstaves, an Iron Age roundhouse and a Roman building set among fields.

Article retrieved from Littlehampton Gazette features a video too.

CULT-places

The cult-place of a hero could be called by a variety of terms. Some emphasize the fact that the hero was dead: sēma, mnēma, thēkē, and taphos are all terms used for regular burials as well as heroic tombs. Hērōon refers to a cult-place with a tomb, but the term seems to denote something more elaborate than just a simple burial. The lack of a burial could be noted, as when Pausanias states that the sacrifices to Myrtilus at Olympia took place at an empty mound, kenon ērion (6.10.17). Terms used for the sanctuaries of the gods are found as well, such as temenos and hieron (a holy place or precinct), naos (temple), or alsos (sacred grove).

The diversity in terminology corresponds to the variations in appearance of archaeologically attested cult-places of heroes. The identification of a cult-place of a hero or heroine is no simple matter, and without any written evidence it is often difficult to distinguish a cult-place for a hero from that of a minor god or, in later periods, from a substantial burial monument for an ordinary dead person. Most archaeologically attested hero-cults have either been identified by epigraphical evidence found at the site or by being connected with a hero-cult mentioned in literary sources (Pausanias’ account of Greece refers to more than a hundred heroes having some kind of physical monument). On archaeological grounds alone, the means for recognizing a hero-shrine are more ambiguous.

A location on or at graves makes the identification plausible, if it can be demonstrated that the burials were in fact known when the cult was established. But a number of hero-shrines show no association with burials at all and it is also clear from the written evidence that the tomb of the hero was no prerequisite for the installation of the cult.

To single out certain kinds of votives as particularly ‘‘heroic” is difficult. Some types of figurines, such as horses and riders, or pottery shapes, such as kraters, drinking cups or large bowls for the bath of the hero, or objects, such as miniature shields, have been claimed to be typical for hero-cults. A closer comparison with local votive practices often shows that the same objects were dedicated to the gods or used as funerary gifts as well. One category of votive offering which can be said to be particularly linked to hero-cults, though their appearance often exhibits local traits, are stone reliefs or terracotta plaques showing a horseman, a seated male figure or a male-female couple, or a reclining and banqueting figure, often accompanied by a snake.

Just like the cult-places of the gods, hero-shrines could be located anywhere: isolated in the countryside, along roads, at city gates, or on the agora, the location often evoking the hero’s role as a founder or protector of the community. A number of hero-cults had a relationship with a divine cult and most, if not all, major sanctuaries of gods housed both burials and cults of heroes. These heroes were often intimately connected with the mythical history of the sanctuary: the hero or heroine founded the sanctuary, instituted the cult, and was its first priest or priestess. The performance of games was also linked to the presence of a hero in a divine sanctuary. At Olympia, Pelops’ defeat of Oenomaus was said to have been commemorated by the institution of the games or, according to another tradition, the games were founded by Heracles in honor of Pelops himself.

The tomb of a hero in a sanctuary gave rise to a myth explaining its presence. At Delphi there were different accounts of why Neoptolemus was slain at the altar of Apollo and buried within the sacred area: Pausanias (10.24.6) pointed out the peribolos with the hero’s tomb near the temple of Apollo. The fact that no convincing match has been made so far with the excavated remains illustrates the difficulties in identifying a hero-shrine.

Written and archaeological evidence makes it clear that many installations connected with heroes consisted only of a tomb, a statue, or a stele, but by no means were all such monuments the focus for sacrifices. The accidental discovery of a prehistoric burial may have called for a one-off sacrifice and dedication of votives, presumably to appease the disturbed hero, but it did not give rise to a recurrent cult. There was also a tradition of some heroes not wanting any cult, as was the case with Eurystheus, who was going to protect Athens from his grave on the condition that the Athenians did not offer him sacrifices and libations (Euripides, Heraclidae 1026-36, 1040-3).

The heroes were local phenomena, and the layout of the cult-place was adapted to local conditions and traditions. These circumstances, as well as the heterogeneity of the hero population, account for the lack of panhellenic conformity in the appearance of the cult-places. The layout of cult-places ranged from the simplest and smallest, some only a piece of land marked by a boundary stone (horos), to large and elaborate sanctuaries. The sacred area could be an abaton, somewhere it was not permitted to enter, and any votives were offered by dropping them over the walls, as at the so-called Leokorion in the Athenian agora and a number of small precincts on Delos. Many hero-cults consisted of small enclosures, in which only an offering table or altar was placed, as in the case of the Stele shrine and the Crossroads hērōon at Corinth or that of the Amyneion at Athens, which also had a well and perhaps a simple stoa.

Some were unique in appearance, as in the case of the Menelaion at Sparta, which consisted of a massive, rectangular platform, almost 15 – 20 m and at least 5 m high. It was accessed by a ramp, and on top there may have been an altar, statues, or a small temple. Finally, there were hero sanctuaries with a temple, like that of a god, and auxiliary buildings, such as the Amphiareion at Oropus, the sanctuary of Hippolytus at Troezen, and the Herakleion on Thasos. The sanctuary of Hērōs Ptoios in Boeotia had at least two altars, a small temple, probably housing the cult statue, and a stoa where the worshipers could dine and sleep, and in which votive objects were kept. The importance of this sanctuary is also evident from two rows of inscribed stone columns, from the late sixth to the mid-fifth century, supporting monumental tripods.

A fundamental trait of a hero was the fact that he was dead, but the relationship between the tomb of the hero and the location and appearance of the cult-place is complex. Some cult-places emphasized the burial aspect, as in the case of the archaic enclosure of the Pelopion at Olympia, which was centered on a prehistoric tumulus, identified as the tomb of the hero, or in that of the precinct of Opheltes at Nemea, in which a mound was artificially created in the sixth century. Others show no traces of a tomb or burial, and some heroes had cults even though the mythic narrative makes it clear that there were no physical remains, since the hero had vanished at the moment of death.

While the tomb of an ordinary dead person constituted a source of pollution, the burials of heroes were an exception to this rule and could be placed in spaces reserved for the living or for the gods, areas from which the dead were otherwise banned. However, religious personnel sometimes had to take certain precautions. Two third-century BC inscriptions from Cos stipulate that the priestesses of Demeter, in order to keep their purity, should not step upon or eat by a hērōon (LS 154 A, 21-2 and 37; 156 A, 8-10, heavily restored).

Pausanias remarks that anyone who ate from the sacrifices to Pelops at Olympia could not enter the temple of Zeus (5.13.3). Presumably participation in the cult of this hero made the worshiper impure in the eyes of the god. In several cases the bones of heroes are described as gigantic, in accordance with the notion of heroes being men larger than life. The finding of prehistoric bones may have lain behind some stories, and discoveries of this sort could also give rise to cults. The display of actual heroic bones seems, on the other hand, to have been less important for the cult than the fact that a city or sanctuary possessed them and that they were kept at a particular location. In contrast to the relics of Christian saints, individual bones did not contain the power of the hero (unless the rest of the skeleton was missing, as in the case of Pelops’ shoulder blade, kept at Olympia), and there is no tradition of the bones being used to perform miracles or healing, or of them being dangerous.

Other possessions of heroes were also displayed in sanctuaries and revered, though rarely in the same cultic sense as the bones. Among such venerable objects were spears, shields, and other items of weaponry, but also chariots, ships, furniture, and clothing, and the egg of Leda was even reported to have been kept in the sanctuary of the Leucippides at Sparta.

This post is a part of Heroes and Hero-cults series (for more info see previous posts).