4,200-year-old “zombie grave” found in Saxony-Anhalt

Archaeologists have found a Neolithic “revenant grave” near Oppin in Saxony-Anhalt. The deceased was pinned under a large stone to prevent him rising from the grave to wreak havoc with the living. Precise dating has yet to be done, but evidence suggests it is a Bell Beaker culture grave from around 4,200 years ago. If the preliminary dating proves accurate, this is the first deviant burial from the period discovered in central Germany.

Excavations in advance of power line expansion work uncovered the grave of an adult male between 40 and 60 years old. There were no grave goods interred with him. He was placed on his left side with his legs bent and a large stone across his lower legs. The stone is more than three feet long, a foot-and-a-half wide, four inches high and weighs 110 pounds. The heavy weight and broad coverage was intended to prevent the deceased from rising from his grave.

“We know that even in the Stone Age people were afraid of unpleasant revenants. People wanted to prevent that with magic,” said project manager and archaeologist Susanne Friederich. “There are graves where the corpse even lies on its stomach. Back then, people believed that dead people sometimes tried to free themselves from their graves. If it lies on its stomach, it burrows deeper and deeper instead of rising to the surface “There are also dead bodies lying on their stomachs who were also pierced with a lance, so they were practically fixed in the ground,” explained Friederich.

Friederich and her team unearthed another apparent revenant burial in the Oppin area last November, albeit a much more recent one, dating to the 2nd or 3rd century. Three heavy stones had been placed on the deceased’s legs. A bronze fibula was found in the grave, so he was no pauper. The skeletal remains of a woman were found nearby without anti-revenant measures. There’s also the outline of a house near the two burials, so it seems likely the two people may have resided there.

The skeletal remains have been recovered from the Neolithic grave and are being transferred to a laboratory in Halle for further study. Excavations along the expansion route of the power line are ongoing and they have a lot of ground to cover, more than 90 miles through Saxony-Anhalt alone (335 miles in total). The excavations are planned to continue through 2025. 

Roman colonnaded street found in Antalya

A long stretch of a Roman colonnaded street has been discovered in the resort town of Antalya, southern Turkey. So far a section of wall 100 meters (328 feet) long has been uncovered, but archaeologists expect to find much more, up to 800 meters (half a mile) of the colonnaded wall.

The massive wall was unearthed during an excavation of around the Hıdırlık Tower, a landmark of the city that was built in the 2nd century A.D. and is the one of the oldest surviving monuments in the city. Located at the intersection of the city walls and the sea wall, the original square base may have been built as early as the Hellenistic period (323 – 32 B.C.). It took its final form in the Roman era, (1st or 2nd century A.D.) when the circular second story was built, giving it the shape and height it has now.

Its original purpose is uncertain, but the currently scholarly consensus is that it was a mausoleum built for the family of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus, an important senatorial and consular family in the 1st century. The Byzantines converted it into a defensive tower, integrating it into the city walls. In subsequent eras it was also used as a lighthouse.

Today it is a beloved symbol of the city. Starting in 2020, the municipality embarked on a project of conservation and excavation, ensuring the long-term stability of the tower and archaeologically exploring the immediately surrounding area. So far, the remains of baths, mosaic floors and a Cretan ice factory have been unearthed. The city plans to build wooden walkways and an observation deck over the underground remains that will be Turkey’s largest.

The structural work on the tower is almost complete, and the observation deck is scheduled to open this summer. Meanwhile, the excavation is ongoing and archaeologists hope to uncover the full length of the surviving colonnaded wall.

Neolithic women sacrificed Mafia-style

A new study of the skeletal remains of two women discovered at the Middle Neolithic (4250-3600 B.C.) site of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in southern France has revealed they were ritually murdered by an agonizing method still utilized today by the Mafia: by tying their necks to their bent legs until they inevitably strangled themselves. The Italian mob calls this torturous execution method “incaprettamento” (literally “ingoatment” because they’re strung up like goats on a spit), but the Neolithic version one-ups even the cruelty of organized crime by burying the victims alive.

Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in the central Rhône Valley was a gathering site in the Middle Neolithic, not a residential settlement. Excavations have unearthed numerous silos and pits containing broken grindstones, sacrificed dogs, ceramics and pebble fills. There are also human remains in some of the pits, notably in two pits covered by a wooden structure aligned with the summer and winter solstices.

One of those pits, pit 69, is shaped like a storage silo, but it has no traces of seeds or of having been burned (a sanitizing practice for actual storage silos). It contained the skeletons of three women, one in the center of the pit positioned on her left side with a vase near her head, the other two underneath an overhang. The second was on her back with her legs bent and a heavy piece of grindstone placed on her skull. The third was on her stomach with her neck on the chest of the second woman. Her knees are bent too and she had two pieces of grindstone on her back.

Looking into the pit from above at the time of the burial, only the first woman would have been visible. The other two women were obscured by the overhang. They were also crammed into the space, so much so that the grindstone pieces must have been forcefully inserted when the bodies were put in position.

If they were still alive, in conjunction with their positioning beneath the pit’s overhang, then they could no longer move, and breathing became very difficult. Furthermore, since the initial descriptions, numerous forensic studies have been conducted on individuals in similar positions with pressure applied to them, resulting in their deaths. In such a position, death occurs relatively quickly, even if the victims were not drugged or beaten. The prone position induces inadequate ventilation and a decrease in the blood volume pumped by the heart, which can lead to pulseless electrical activity arrest and/or cardiac arrest by asystole. This diagnosis, formerly known as positional asphyxia, could now be better defined as “prone restraint cardiac arrest.” Some individuals are more sensitive than others, but cervical compression is an aggravating factor, as is obstruction of the nose and mouth.

The intriguing position of the lower limbs of woman 3 is also noteworthy. Her legs collapsed to the side as the body decomposed, and from their placement on the corpse, it appears that the knees would have been bent at slightly over 90° with the legs held more or less vertically. Given the woman’s prone position, this suggests a potential case of homicidal ligature strangulation. In this scenario, the woman would have been on her abdomen with a ligature attached to her ankles and neck. The fact that the woman was obstructed by grindstones and the overhang of the storage pit, coupled with the possibility of a tie connecting her ankles to her neck, supports the hypothesis of a deposit while she was still alive. Otherwise, the physical constraints could have been less severe, especially considering that the grindstones were not visible from the outside.

There is evidence of incaprettamento having been used as a method of human sacrifice from other Neolithic sites in Europe. The research team documents the practice in rock art scenes and in burials from 16 graves at 14 archaeological sites stretching from the Czech Republic to Spain and ranging in date from around 5400 B.C. to 3500 B.C.

Second Greek-Illyrian helmet found in Croatia

A 2,500-year-old Greek-Illyrian helmet has been discovered in the village of Zakotorac on Croatia’s Pelješac peninsula. It was unearthed by archaeologists from the Dubrovnik Museums at the Gomile cave tomb site where rich graves from the second half of the 1st millennium B.C. have been discovered since the excavation project began in 2020.

This is the second Greco-Illyrian helmet found in the Gomile excavations. The previous example was found in a grave along with fragments of iron weapons and thus likely belonged to a member of the warrior elite who was buried there. The recently-discovered helmet was found in a dry stone-walled addition to a grave, so archaeologists believe it may have been a votive deposit.

The helmets are of different types and dates. The one discovered in 2020 is an open-faced helmet with a rectangular cut-out for the face edged with a decorative border, a variant in active use in Greece and Illyria in the 4th century B.C. The most recent helmet is older, dating to the 6th century B.C. Few examples of the 4th century B.C. type have survived, with only about 40 known in Europe, and the 6th century B.C. helmets are even more rare. Finding two different Greek-Illyrian helmets at one site is unprecedented.

What is very interesting is that two different types appear here in the same place, which actually speaks of a continuity of power of the respective community. These helmets have always been a symbol of some kind of status and power, said Dr. sc. Hrvoje Potrebica , from the Department of Archeology of the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb.

The highly valuable and rare helmets keep company with other exceptional grave goods, including 15 bronze and silver fibulae, 12 needles, spiral bronze jewelry, bronze tweezers, hundreds of glass and amber beads, a bronze diadem and more than three dozen vessels of Greek origin, most of them made in Attic and Italic workshops. These were the most highly prized pieces of pottery of the time. If acquired via trade, the cost would have been prohibitive. It’s also possible they were acquired by piracy, a pursuit the Illyrian warriors on the Adriatic coast were famous for.

Garforth Roman lead coffin to go on display

The Roman lead coffin discovered in Garforth, near Leeds, in 2022 will go on display for the first time in an exhibition at the Leeds City Museum next month.

The coffin was unearthed in an excavation of a previously unknown cemetery containing burials of more than 60 men, women and children from the late Roman and early Saxon periods (5th-8th centuries). The lead coffin was used as the inner lining of a larger wood coffin which has decayed leaving only the metal interior in place. Lead coffins were expensive and rare, only affordable by the elite of Romano- British society. Pieces of jewelry — a bracelet, glass bead necklace and ring — were found inside the coffin, confirming the aristocratic status of the deceased.

When it was first discovered, the skeletal remains of an adult woman between 25 and 35 years of age were found inside the coffin. Later analysis of the contents of the lead coffin found the partial remains of a young child buried at the same time as the woman.

The coffin and its lid are currently being conserved and stabilised for display at Leeds City Museum, as part of the new exhibition Living with Death.

Kat Baxter, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of archaeology, said: “This is a truly unique and remarkable find which has potentially huge implications for our understanding of the history of early Leeds and those who made their home here.”

She added: “The discovery of the remains of a second individual within the coffin is fascinating, particularly as they belonged to a child.

“It poses some interesting questions about how people more than 1,600 years ago treated their dead.”

Ms Baxter explained the Roman lead coffin was the only one of its kind ever discovered in West Yorkshire.

“We’re delighted to be able to display the coffin so quickly after excavation, and we’re looking forward to sharing this amazing piece of history with our visitors,” she said.