Massacres during the late Linear Pottery Culture of Middle Europe

 As shown in earlier posts there are many possible explanations for the phenomenon of intra / intergroup violence during prehistoric and historic times. First evidence for murdered individuals and even massacres of a larger group of persons is available for the late Paleolithic in Europe and the Egypt

The first farmers in Europe are represented by the Early Linear Pottery Culture (LBK ), which developed in South Central Europe around 5.7 k.a BC. During the first phase the LBK began to spread from Hungary to the middle Rhine valley, with settlements established mainly on fertile soils like loess. During the late phase (about 5.0 k.a. BC), LBK settlements can be finally found from the Paris Basin in the West to central Poland and Moldavia in the East. There is no evidence of mass kills during the early and middle LBK. The archaeological record of the later and latest phases of LBK shows signs of greater regionalism and is characterized by settlements with fortifications and some clear indications for intensified intra / intergroup conflicts.

Asparn-Schletz in Lower Austria, about 50 km north of Vienna, is one of the fortified settlements from the end of the LBK period. During excavations, large numbers of human remains were found at the base of a fortification ditch. It is estimated from the number of cranial and postcranial remains that approximately 200 individuals were deposited.  The skeletons were found mainly in strange positions, and often several skeletons were grouped together. The bodies were deposited prone and many skeletons were incomplete with extremities missing. The skeletal investigations showed that most of the skulls were lethally fractured. Many postcranial remains exhibit unusual features too. The age and the sex distribution of the individuals showed that the occurrence of females among the young adult population is significantly reduced. From these results, it has been suggested that the traumatic lesions originate from inter-human aggressive acts. It was also suggested that the reduced abundance of females amongst the young adults was interpreted as an indication of the abduction of women of child-bearing age. It seems that these humans were probably the victims of a massacre which led to the abrupt end of the LBK settlement at Schletz (Stadler 2004, Teschler-Nicola et al. 1999).

A similar situation as in Schletz is also found at 2 Neolithic sites from the LBK period in Germany: At Talheim near Heilbronn in Baden-Württemberg and at a fortified large settlement at Vaihingen, in the Neckar region 650-700 km to the west from Schletz. At Talheim the remains of 34 human individuals were excavated from a mass grave found in 1983/84 located outside the settlement area. In contrast to Schletz, no fortifications have yet been found. The position of the skeletons indicated that these human remains were not buried according to usual LBK burial rites, but were victims of a massacre. Many bodies were lying in a strange twisted posture, and several skeletons were mixed together. Several skulls were lethally fractured. The whole assemblage was interpreted as a mass grave, with bodies quickly thrown into a pit and covered, because carnivore bite marks on the bones were absent. Regarding the age and sex profile of the cadavers a possible deficit of infants in the age group of below 4 yr was suggested by the excavators. One (very speculative) explanation was that they may have been kidnapped by the attackers (Wahl and König 1987).

At Vaihingen, 12 people’s bodies were thrown or dumped in two pits outside the ancient village, without ceremony and without any special treatment. Strontium isotopes indicated that perhaps 40% of these people were born elsewhere. Indications of violence are present in some of the bodies.

At Herxheim, a LBK enclosure near Landau, Rhineland-Palatinate, highly fragmented parts of more than 500 bodies were found since 1900. Human remains were present. Similar to Schletz the settlement was equipped with an outer and an inner fortification ditch. The human remains were mainly deposited within the ditches. Many skeletons were incomplete and were not lying in a correct anatomical position. Several bones were fragmented and deposited together with animal bones, pottery, and other waste material from the settlement. The most extraordinary findings at Herxheim are calottes from human skulls which at some places appeared to be grouped together (Häußer 1998). For the Herxheim site, a massacre-scenario is unlikely. The sheer number of individuals that were found strongly argues against the possibility that they were the victims of a single raid. Whilst many skulls showed evidence of violence, wounds often seem to have healed, or can be interpreted as peri- and post mortal event suggesting that this may not have been the cause of death. Nowadays a ritual context is preferred for the interpretation of the Herxheim enclosure. One interpretation suggest a common burial ground for individuals, that lived far off Herxheim and were finally secondary  buried at the site. Alternative readings consider „less humanistic practices or ritual tortures and killings by captives, slaves or witches” (Groneborn 2009).

A mass grave site of Schöneck-Kilianstädten, Germany shows another indisputable evidence for organized violence during the late LBK. At least 26 individuals were violently killed by blunt force and arrow injuries before being deposited in a commingled mass grave. A new violence-related pattern was identified here: the intentional and systematic breaking of lower limbs (PNAS August 2015).

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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