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Mysterious Graves Discovered at Ancient European Cemetery

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Major Weatherly
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« on: February 20, 2016, 11:18:53 pm »


Mysterious Graves Discovered at Ancient European Cemetery

Archaeologists in Germany have uncovered the bodies of children and of one adult man who was buried, strangely, standing upright.

This six-month-old baby is one of the oldest infant skeletons found in Europe. It was buried 8,400 years ago by hunter-gatherers near Berlin.
Photograph by Rémi Bénali, National Geographic
By Andrew Curry

PUBLISHED Thu Feb 11 12:00:00 EST 2016

One of the oldest cemeteries in Europe has recently been discovered, with graves dating back almost 8,500 years. Two of the most intriguing finds are the skeleton of a six-month-old child and a mysterious upright burial of a man in his early 20s.

The German cemetery, called Gross Fredenwalde after a nearby village, belongs to a time known as the Mesolithic, when Europe was populated by hunter-gatherers. At a press conference Thursday morning in Berlin, excavators announced that nine skeletons have been uncovered on the hilltop burial site so far, five of them children younger than 6 years old. And the researchers found ample evidence that more graves remain unexcavated.

“It’s rare for the Mesolithic to find multiple graves in one place,” says forensic anthropologist Bettina Jungklaus, who excavated one of the bodies. “They were mobile people, ranging over the landscape.”

Excavations in 2013 and 2014 uncovered evidence of the prehistoric graveyard, found 50 miles north of Berlin on a hill 300 feet above the plains below. The hilltop’s hard, rocky soil would have been a tough place to dig graves. With no water sources nearby, it would have been a bad place for a settlement, too.

In a paper published in the journal Quartär, Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who led the recent dig, says the burials are evidence of careful planning. “It’s not an accumulation of burials by accident, but a place where they decided to put their dead,” says Terberger, of the Lower Saxony Department of Historic Preservation. “It’s the first evidence of a true cemetery in northern Europe or Scandinavia.”

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That, colleagues say, makes the spot special. “It’s a big surprise,” says Erik Brinch Petersen, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen. “Hunter-gatherer people typically buried their dead right next to their houses. Here in northern Europe, a site like this is unique.”

The infant skeleton is rare, too. Researchers say it’s the earliest infant skeleton ever found in Germany, and one of the oldest in Europe. Excavators removed the fragile remains from the cemetery in a single, 660-pound (300 kilogram) block of earth, making it possible to carefully expose the 8,400-year-old skeleton in the controlled setting of a lab. “It’s really rare to find an intact burial like this, because an infant’s bones are so small and fragile,” says Jungklaus.

Laid to rest not long after it turned six months old, the baby is almost perfectly preserved, its arms folded across its tiny chest. The bones and nearby soil are stained red from ochre pigment used to decorate the body for burial.

The excellent preservation offers researchers a wealth of information. Chemical signatures in the bones, for example, could show whether the infant was breast-fed; DNA could establish links to other skeletons in the cemetery and determine the infant’s gender.

Learning more about its short life and how it died could tell archaeologists more about what conditions were like for Europe’s early inhabitants. “We can look at possible illnesses, and perhaps determine the cause of death,” Jungklaus says. “Children are always the weakest link–they’re the first victims when the environment or living situation changes.”

While the infant burial is remarkable, the body of a young man found nearby has excavators puzzled–and excited. Buried more than 1,000 years after the infant, the man was entombed standing up, together with bone tools and flint knives. The man’s skeleton suggests he lived a pretty easy life. It doesn’t show signs that he did a lot of physically taxing labor. “He looks like a flint knapper or experienced craftsman, rather than the strongest boy of the group,” Terberger says.

Stranger still, the vertical grave was filled in just as far as the man’s knees at first. His upper body was allowed to partially decay and fall apart before the grave was filled in. At some point, a fire was built on top of the tomb.

WATCH: Get a glimpse of the well-preserved, 8,400-year-old skeleton of a baby found in Germany.

One possible explanation comes from hundreds of miles to the northeast. Standing burials similar to the one at Gross Fredenwalde have been found in a cemetery called Olenij Ostrov in modern-day Russia, from about the same time. Researchers have long assumed culture flowed into ancient Europe from the south, but these odd burials suggest that there was active migration or communication across northern Europe as well. “This man is an indication of such eastern influences,” Terberger says; DNA results from his bones might be able to tease out the connections.

From early analyses of his DNA and the grave goods he was buried with, it’s clear the young man buried standing up was a hunter-gatherer, like the infant he shared the cemetery with. But he died about 7,000 years ago, meaning the hilltop cemetery was in use for more than a millennium.

His death occurred about the same time the first farmers arrived in this part of Europe, part of a process that changed the face of the continent. The overlap might help researchers understand what happened when hunter-gatherers first encountered immigrants bringing new technologies and lifestyles from far to the south. “Late hunter-gatherers and early farmers lived side-by-side,” Terberger says.

But the evidence from the graveyard suggests that relations were chilly. Archaeologists have found farmer settlements from the same time period just 7 miles (10 kilometers) away from the hunter-gatherer cemetery–but no signs that the people buried there had any meaningful contact with their neighbors. “They must have looked in each other’s eyes, but not exchanged anything–neither goods nor genes,” says Petersen.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-oldest-cemetery-burial-europe-baby-upright-germany-hunter-gatherer/
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2016, 11:22:25 pm »





This six-month-old baby is one of the oldest infant skeletons found in Europe. It was buried 8,400 years ago by hunter-gatherers near Berlin.
Photograph by Rémi Bénali, National Geographic
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2016, 11:23:19 pm »

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-oldest-cemetery-burial-europe-baby-upright-germany-hunter-gatherer/
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2016, 11:24:28 pm »

Remains Found of 7,000-Year-Old Man Buried Upright
Feb 16, 2016 11:59 AM ET // by Rossella Lorenzi
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The young man was buried in a vertical pit in a 8,500-year-old cemetery, one of the oldest ever found in Europe.

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A Mesolithic site in Germany has revealed the 7,000-year-old remains of a young man buried there in a strange upright position.

Placed in a vertical pit, the body was fixed upright by filling the grave with sand up to the knees. The upper body was left to decay and was likely picked at by scavengers.

The unique burial was found near the village of Groß Fredenwalde, on top of a rocky hill in northeastern Germany, about 50 miles north of Berlin.

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Dating back 8,500 years, the site belongs to the Mesolithic era when Europe was inhabited by hunter-gatherers who rarely stayed in one place.

Nine skeletons have been excavated so far, including five children younger than 6 years and the 8,400-year-old skeleton of a 6-month-old infant, with arms still folded across the chest.

According to Thomas Terberger, the excavation director at the Lower Saxony Department of Historic Preservation, the site was one of the first true cemeteries in Europe, used by native central European hunter-gatherers and fisherman from about 6400 B.C. to 500 B.C.

“It is evidence for a more stable way of life some 8,000 years ago,” Terberger said.

Oldest Dentistry Found in 14,000-Year-Old Tooth

Detailing their findings in the journal Quaternary, Terberger and colleagues describe the skeleton buried upright as “without any parallel in central Europe.”

From the arrangement of the bones, the researchers speculate the young man was put — probably dead — into a 5 foot vertical pit.

Leaning with its back against the wall of the grave, the body was fixed in standing position by filling the pit with sands to a level above the knees.

“The pit was then left open or was preliminarily covered and subsequently carnivores were able to get at the corpse and gnaw on some of the arm bones,” the researchers wrote.

1,500-Year-Old Prosthesis Found With Skeleton

After decay, the upper body fell apart. The grave was then filled and sealed with a fire lit on top of the tomb.

“The burial is unique in central Europe and therefore it is difficult to find a specific reasons for such treatment,” Terberger told Discovery News.

“The young man also received grave goods and this is indicating an unusual, but honorable treatment of the body,” he added. “On this background, I see no good argument to interpret the burial as a kind of punishment.”

The outstanding preservation of the nine skeletons will allow researchers to carry out scientific analyses, such as ancient DNA tests and isotope studies.

“We will be able to better characterize the native population at that time, before and after the first farmers immigrated to Central Europe from Southeast-Europe about 7,500 years ago,” Terberger said.

http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/remains-found-of-7000-year-old-man-buried-upright-160216.htm
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2016, 11:25:07 pm »



The young man was buried in a vertical pit in a 8,500-year-old cemetery, one of the oldest ever found in Europe.
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2016, 11:25:31 pm »

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