An ancient circular wooden monument in Germany—similar in age and appearance to England's Stonehenge—may have been a site for human sacrifice.
According to Smithsonian, German archaeologists André Spatzier and François Bertemes excavated a variety of Neolithic and Bronze Age antiquities dating back to the period between 2321 and 2211 BCE from Pӧmmelte, the "German Stonehenge" located in northeastern Germany. Among the broken drinking vessels, stone axes, and animal bones they expected to see (such relics were distinctive of the era’s Bell Beaker culture), researchers also found the dismembered bodies of 10 women and children.
Four bodies showed signs of skull trauma and rib fractures that occurred before death, researchers write in the journal Antiquity. The skeleton of a teenager had tied hands. All 10 bodies were found in positions suggesting they were thrown into the burial shafts.
“It remains unclear whether these individuals were ritually killed or if their death resulted from intergroup conflict, such as raiding,” researchers say in the study.
Those 10 bodies stood in contrast to the nearby graves of 13 men (all between 17 and 30 years old at death), which were buried in a respectful manner. The gender-specific violence and burial differences shown at Pӧmmelte make ritual sacrifice a likely scenario, researchers say.
Spatzier told Live Science that Pӧmmelte was in use for about 300 years before it was destroyed—likely intentionally—around 2050 BCE. The site was discovered in 1991 when aerial photographers spotted it shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.