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Violence in Settlements

Violence in Settlements

At least 34 individuals have been buried in the pit that can be described as a mass grave located on the Talheim site (in Germany). According to anthropological analysis these unfortunates came from different age groups and were of different genders, which corresponded to the distribution of the general population on a smaller LBK settlement; additionally genetic kinship ties between some individuals were also proved to exist. In regard to the three individuals the strontium analysis that was implemented indicated a non-local origin thereby pointing to higher-lying areas that are atypical of agricultural societies.

The positions of the bodies in the grave suggest that they were brutally thrown into them. We also know that this very irreverent burial took place soon after this unfortunate event had occurred, because the skeletal remains did not show any trace of animal teeth as they did in Schletz, for example. Therefore, we can assume that at least part of the community survived and did take care about their dead at least in this respect. What was fatal for most individuals found in Talheim (Germany) was a blow to the head with a stone axe or a cosh or some other blunt object, while for some an arrow was deadly as could be seen on unhealed wounds that were clearly visible on the skeletons. It is obvious that these individuals did not attempt to resist, since the skeletal remains do not show any signs of trying to fend off an attack, which would inevitably cause additional fractures to other parts of the body, e.g. to the arms. The finding situation was therefore interpreted as representing an attack on the entire settlement at some point during the period leading to the end of the development of the LBK at which point the inhabitants attempted to save themselves by escaping, but apparently they were beaten to the ground by their enemies, which has been assessed based on the locations of the injuries. Based on the use of the polished stone tools that were typical of the first farmers, though in this case they were murderous, we can reliably state that this was an act of aggression that was launched against another group of farmers, the question being whether the reason for this was ethnic or economic or the power factor.

A mass grave in Thalheim (© Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Esslingen). A view of the finding situation during the period of the research and the reconstruction of the position of the bodies in the pit - A: Men, B: Women and C: Children (by Price et al. 2006, Fig. 4).
A mass grave in Thalheim (© Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Esslingen). A view of the finding situation during the period of the research and the reconstruction of the position of the bodies in the pit - A: Men, B: Women and C: Children (by Price et al. 2006, Fig. 4).

Another example of a site where there was also evidence of Neolithic violence is the Schletz/Asparn site (in Austria), which had been continuously inhabited by several different generations of settlers. The fortification system was composed of trenches that gradually expanded and in accordance with traces of reparation it was apparently also repaired up to three times and the trenches were deepened too. Found at the bottom of the most recent of them, that was dated to the Želiezovce group during a later stage of the LBK, was probably the last generation of its inhabitants. In the part of the trench that has been explored so far nearly 100 human skeletons of individuals who had been killed violently were discovered, lying one of top of the other, apparently just as the enemies had thrown them into the trench. Signs of violence can be deduced from the skeletal remains that bear traces of arrow wounds, but also primarily hits by coshes, axes, mauls and other blunt objects to the crown or to the nape. From this we can conclude that these individuals were hit while they were on the ground. We also know that these individuals were not buried immediately after the attack, but instead were left for some time in an open trench, as is evidenced by the traces that were found of animal teeth attacking unburied bodies.

Another example of peculiar and, from today’s perspective, violent or otherwise inhumane practices during the Neolithic period are two finding situations that were explored in Menneville and in Herxheim in Germany. They resemble one another in regard to their structure of an interrupted trench, while in accordance with the number of individuals buried and their roles they do not. Neither of these situations has been fully explored, however. The first settlement of the LBK culture (in French RRBP) that was mentioned is located in the Paris basin and its trench hid children, mostly of 5-6 years of age, and also adults, who had been irregularly and not anatomically buried. Apart from that, there were known classic skeletal burials in the construction pit close to one of the eight houses that were located in this settlement. These burial situations were not concurrent; the burials in the trench occurred somewhat later and they point to a different burial rite, other than that which was practiced in the settlement itself. Some researchers believe that this represent a case of ritual slaughter or of offering, which could indicate the selection of a certain group of the population and in this case this meant children. This possibility cannot be completely excluded, though this is not usual for the LBK culture, it is, however, a standard form of burial in this location. Like in Herxheim.

The last example of violence that is presented in this chapter concerns the Neolithic settlement located in Vaihingen (Germany), which was founded by agricultural groups during the initial stage of the LBK culture. A little later, during the Flomborn stage, this settlement was enclosed by a two-metre wide trench with a flat bottom of the U-type, which was interrupted in five different places that all represented points of entry. The significance of the trench was more symbolic than defensive and its functioning lasted for two or three generations. A total of 80 buried individuals were found in the backfill of the trench, while another more than forty graves came from the settlement pits. Very interesting findings were resultant on the strontium analysis of the teeth of the individuals who had been buried. It turned out that there were marked differences, and that the individuals in the trench did not have any local origins.


Want to learn more?

  • Krause, R. 2000. Die bandkeramischen Siedlungsgrabungen bei Vaihingen an der Enz, Kreis Ludwigsburg (Baden-Württemberg). Ein Vorbericht zu den Ausgrabungen von 1994-1997. Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission. Franfurkt am Main: Philipp von Zabern.
  • Wild, E. M., P. Stadler, A. Häusser, W. Kutschera, P. Steier, M. Teschler-Nicola, J. Wahl, and H. J. Windl. 2004. Neolithic massacres: local skirmishes or general warfare in Europe? Radiocarbon 36 (1):377-385.