The Mesolithic is the period between deglaciation and the introduction of agriculture in Europe (up to about 4000 cal BC in my parts). Within Swedish research into this period in recent years, no single site has been able to compete with the small town of Motala in Östergötland county. Located at a series of rapids on the main waterway from Lake Vättern to the Baltic, the spot has always been important for fishers and travellers. Its Mesolithic record has gained the limelight thanks to major railroad construction in an area with waterlogged sediment that preserves organics. Thus any number of beautiful bone and wood finds, and of course the bone boner covered here before.
Now my old colleague and buddy Fredrik Hallgren of Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård has gone public with some awesome finds that have only been known from a blog posts and Facebook updates. Here’s their press release, mercilessly edited:
Archaeological excavations in 2009-2011 in Motala have unearthed a unique Mesolithic site with ceremonial depositions of human crania in a former lake. The skulls have been treated in a complex ceremony that involved the display of skulls on stakes and the deposition of skulls in water. The skulls have been radiocarbon-dated and are 8000 years old.
The rituals at Kanaljorden were conducted on a massive stone pavement constructed on the bottom of a shallow lake (currently a peat fen). Some crania were fairly intact while others were found as isolated fragments. The more intact ones represent eleven individuals, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls have had wooden stakes inserted all the way from the base to the top. In another case a woman’s temple bone was found inside the skull of another woman. Besides human skulls, the finds also include a small number of post-cranial human bones and bones from animals, as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler.
The skull depositions at Kanaljorden are clearly ritual in character. The next step is to find out if the human bones are relics of dearly departed that were handled in a complex secondary burial ritual, or trophies of defeated enemies. The archaeologists hope that the ongoing laboratory analysis [stable isotopes] will give clues as to whether the bones are the remains of locals or people with a distant geographic origin, and if they represent a family group or persons unrelated to each other.
I haven’t read the bone report, so I’m not sure if they have any positive evidence to suggest that the skulls were defleshed before being put on the stakes. Their date puts them about 2000 years before the world was made according to Christian fundies. And don’t diss my ancestors, OK? This is a sacred mystery to all of us who are as one with the Swedish soil. I am going to demand the right to grind these bones to a fine powder and drink it down mixed with mellanmjölk, semi-skimmed milk. Because such is the ancient custom that I just made up among us ethnic Swedes.