Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Skulls on Stakes in Sweden date to the Mesolithic

Archaeological excavations in 2009–2011 at Kanaljorden in the town of Motala, Östergötland in central Sweden unearthed a unique Mesolithic site with ceremonial depositions of human crania in a former lake.

The human skulls have been part of a complex ceremony that involved their display on stakes and deposition in water.

The skulls have now been C14 dated to 6212-5717 cal BC and two dates on worked wood have also been obtained (5972-5675 cal BC), making them 7-8000 year old.

The rituals were conducted on a massive (14 x 14 m) stone-built construction on the bottom of a shallow lake (nowadays a peat fen). Some human crania were found as more or less intact “skulls” while others were found as isolated fragments, for example a frontal lobe or a temporal bone. Based on the more intact skulls eleven individuals have been identified, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls had wooden stakes inserted into the cranium. In both cases the stakes were inserted from the base to the top of the skull. As well as this a temporal bone of a women was found placed inside the skull of another woman.

Besides human skulls the find material also includes a small number of post-cranial human bones and bones from animals, as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler.

The skull depositions at Kanaljorden are clearly ritual in character. The next step is to find out if the human bones are relics from dearly departed that were handled in a complex secondary burial ritual, or perhaps trophies of defeated enemies. The archaeologists hope that the ongoing laboratory analysis will give clues to whether the bones are remains of locals or people from further afield and if they represent a family group.

The excavations were conducted by Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård in advance of the construction of a new railway. The investigations of the wetland are scheduled to resume in 2012 or 2013.

Past Horizons. 2012. "Skulls on Stakes in Sweden date to the Mesolithic". Past Horizons. Posted: March 22, 2012. Available online:

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