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2 September 2012
Stone Age skull-smashers spark cultural mystery

An unusual cluster of 10,000 year old Stone Age skulls with smashed-in faces has been found in Syria, carefully separated from the rest of their skeletons. They appear to have been dug up several years after being buried with their bodies, removed, then reburied.
     Collections of detached skulls have been dug up at many Stone Age sites in Europe and the Near East, but the face-smashing is a new twist that adds further mystery to how these societies related to their dead.
     No one knows why Neolithic societies buried clusters of skulls, often near or underneath settlements. Some think it was a sign of ancestral veneration. But the violence demonstrated towards the skulls in the latest group suggests a different story.
     Like those found in other caches, they have been cleanly separated from their spines. Patterns on the bone indicate that some had been decomposing for longer than others, making it likely that they were all gathered together for a specific purpose. Most belonged to adult males between 18 and 30 years old. Nine lacked facial bones, and one was smashed to pieces, yet one belonging to a child was left intact.
     "There was a pattern," says Juan Jose Ibanez, at the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona. "The top of the skull and the jaw were there, but they were missing all of the bones in between". His team believes the facial bones were smashed out with a stone and brute force.

Edited from NewScientist (16 August 2012)

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