World news in brief: Neolithic burials, early bone weapons, and the Notre-Dame’s dead

Unusual Neolithic burial practices in Slovakia

Excavations at Vráble-Ve`Ike Lehemby – one of the largest Early Neolithic sites in Central Europe – have been ongoing since 2012, carried out by a team from the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 of Kiel University and the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Most recently, these investigations have uncovered an unusual mass grave, containing 38 individuals whose heads had been removed – a practice that is currently unknown from any other Neolithic site in the region.

Analysis of the skeletons did not reveal cut marks on any of the vertebrae, which indicates that these individuals were probably not beheaded while alive. Instead, their heads may have been carefully removed post-mortem, after a period of decomposition. It is hoped that further analysis will shed more light on this apparently unique burial practice.

Earliest bone weapon in the Americas

Image: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University

Recent re-examination of bone fragments found embedded in a mastodon rib suggests they are probably the remains of the earliest bone projectile point known in the Americas.

The fragments were found during excavations at the Manis site in north-west Washington state between 1977 and 1979. In 2011, research confirmed that they were from a mastodon and dated them to c.13,900 years ago, making this the first bone projectile point found to pre-date the Clovis culture (c.13,000 years ago). Most recently, further research was able to reconstruct the original projectile point, showing that it was similar in shape to ones made out of stone. Researchers were also able to confirm that it had been made out of dense cortical bone, probably from a long bone, and that it originated from a different mastodon than the one it was found embedded in.

The Notre-Dame dead

Analysis of two lead sarcophagi, found beneath the floor of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris last year, has revealed new details about their occupants. The identity of the first was determined thanks to a brass plaque on the coffin naming the deceased as Antoine de la Porte, a wealthy 18th-century Canon of Notre-Dame who is known to have contributed towards the renovation of the cathedral’s choir.

The second individual remains anonymous, but as this coffin was buried deeper than the other, 1m below the cathedral floor, it is probably older in date. Examination of the skeletal remains revealed that they were probably from a man who died between the age of 25 and 40. Changes to his bones indicate he was a frequent horse-rider, and the poor condition of his teeth suggests he suffered from ill health later in his life. Intriguingly, his skull showed signs of having been intentionally modified during childhood through the wearing of a headdress or headband.