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27 September 2015
Scientists uncover pattern of mass murder in Neolithic

Scientists have uncovered mass graves at sites in Central Europe, representing a Neolithic people who lived about 7,000 years ago in what is now Germany and Austria.
     Anthropologist Christian Meyer of the University of Mainz and colleagues suggest an entire Neolithic community of people may have been massacred and dumped into mass graves at the site in Germany known as Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten, sometime between 5207 and 4849 BCE.
     The site is near an ancient border between different communities. Unlike their ancestors, these people settled into a farming lifestyle, cleared forests to farm crops, and lived in timber longhouses alongside their livestock.
     In a seven metre-long, V-shaped pit were found the remains of 26 people - half adults and half children - who had been bludgeoned in the head. In addition, more than half had their shin bones smashed before or after their deaths. Two arrowheads made of animal bone were also found, thought to have been inside bodies when they were placed in the pit.
     Meyer and colleagues came to their conclusions after intense analysis of the bones, initially excavated in 2006.
     With the exception of the bone leg mutilation, similar mass grave finds were made at two other sites dated to the same time period and affiliated with the same culture - one in Talheim, Germany, and the other in Asparn/Schletz in Austria.
     All three sites are identified with what is called the Linearbandkeramic culture, or LBK, referring to the group's distinctive style of ceramic decoration - a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, which flourished from about 5500 to 4500 BCE. Together, the finds at the three sites present implications for the later phases of the culture.
     In the Linear Pottery culture, each person was given their own grave within a cemetery, the body carefully arranged and often buried with grave goods such as pottery and other possessions. By contrast, in the mass grave the bodies lay scattered.
     Meyer and colleagues also report that, "the significant absence of younger women in the Kilianstaedten mass grave may indicate that these were taken captive by the attackers, as also has been suggested for the Asparn/Schletz site in Austria."

Edited from Popular Archaeology, The Guardian (17 August 2015)

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