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How Were Neolithic Burial Rituals Performed?

Por: | 27 de diciembre de 2013


By Núria Quintana, University of Barcelona Press

Neolithic skeletons were not buried; they were simply placed around the north wall of the cave, surrounded by some burial goods. Their extremities were bent; corpses’ extreme foetal positions indicate that they probably were tied and wrapped in a shroud. A Neolithic funeral was like that, according to the information received from the remains found in Can Sadurní cave (Begues, Barcelona). To be exact, four human skeletons dated at about 6,400 years ago were discovered there. Few caves have a necropolis dated to such an ancient period. Moreover, a light landslide on the outer part, which took place when corpses were complete or they had just began the decomposition process, protected the corpses, so at the moment when they were found, they still remained in the position in which they were buried.

Remains correspond to one 50-year-old adult male, a sub-adult, and two children, who were about 3-4 and 5–6 years old. The male individual has some burial goods with him: an ovoid glass with two handles and some fragments of two goats and one calf. A polished bone pendant was also found under the left arm of the corpse, near the elbow.

Individuals rested on their right side; they have their backs turned to the north wall of the cave. Lower extremities were bent, and knees were level with the thorax and legs were bended toward the thighs. Arms were bent between the legs and the head. “To date, this funeral ritual remained unknown in the Iberian Peninsula”, explains Manuel Edo, archaeologist and prehistorian, and Josep Maria Fullola, professor at the University of Barcelona, both coordinators of the project Prehistory in Southeast Llobregat. From the Coast to Garraf-Ordal Massif (La prehistòria al sud-est del Llobregat. De la costa al massís del Garraf-Ordal).

It is important to remark that researchers previously found other corpses in Can Sadurní cave in 1999. Among burial goods, they discovered the shard of a mug in which the most ancient beer fermentation remains found in Europe were identified.

The latest archaeological campaign also observed a combustion structure in the area. Researchers consider that there may be a relationship between this kind of combustion structure and burial rituals. To be exact, they may correspond to fires lighted to keep vigil over the death the day before their disposal inside the cave. Corpses found in Can Sadurní cave will be removed from where they were placed 6,400 years ago and studied. New burial remains will probably be found and Neolithic burial rituals will be better described and understood from these studies.

Image: Some remains found in Can Sadurní cave (Begues, Barcelona).

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