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University of Basel

18 August 2015

Massacres, Torture and Mutilation: Extreme Violence in Neolithic Conflicts

Violent conflicts in Neolithic Europe were held more brutally than has been known so far. This emerges from a recent anthropological analysis of the roughly 7000-year-old mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten by researcher of the Universities of Basel and Mainz. The findings, published in the journal PNAS, show that victims were murdered and deliberately mutilated.

Torture and mutilation

Besides various types of (bone) injuries caused by arrows, they also found many cases of massive damage to the head, face and teeth, some inflicted on the victims shorty before or after their death. In addition, the attackers systematically broke their victims’ legs, pointing to torture and deliberate mutilation. Only few female remains were found, which further indicates that women were not actively involved in the fighting and that they were possibly abducted by the attackers.

The authors of the study thus presume that such massacres were not isolated occurrences but represented frequent features of the early Central European Neolithic period. The fact that the Neolithic massacre sites examined so far are all located in some distance to each other further underlines this conclusion. The researchers thus suggest that the goal of this massive and systematic violence may have been the annihilation of entire communities. The research team was led by Prof. Kurt W. Alt, former Head of the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz and guest lecturer at the University of Basel since 2014.

Original source

Christian Meyer, Christian Lohr, Detlef Gronenborn, and Kurt W. Alt
The massacre mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten reveals new insights into collective violence in Early Neolithic Central Europe
PNAS (2015), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504365112


Further information

Prof. Kurt W. Alt, University of Basel, Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science, tel. +41 61 201 02 17, email: kurt.alt@unibas.ch

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High resolution images for this press release can be found here.

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