Stone Age Britons Often Died From Brutal Blows, Skull Survey Says

Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
May 18, 2006

Stone Age skulls from ancient mortuaries show that Britain was once a dangerous place to live.

Between 4000 and 3200 B.C., Britons had a 1-in-14 chance of being smashed over the head and those injured had a 1-in-50 chance of dying, a recent study reveals.

Rick Schulting, from Queens University Belfast, and Michael Wysocki, from the University of Central Lancashire, analyzed the remains of 350 Stone Age British skulls.

Most of the skulls came from ancient mortuary monuments, dubbed long barrows, in southern England (map of the United Kingdom).

Studying the shape and appearance of fractures on the skulls revealed that around 2 percent of these people had died from a lethal head wound.

A further 4 to 5 percent had received a blow to the head, but had recovered from their injuries, as indicated by fractures that appear to have knitted back together.

The findings suggest that the Neolithic, or new Stone Age, period in Britain was much more violent than previously thought.

"We only studied the skulls. If other kinds of injury are taken into account, then the death rate was probably even higher," Schulting said.

Results from the skull survey were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology late last month.

Out for Revenge

Most archaeologists have long considered Neolithic Britain to be a peaceful place, where people were largely occupied with farming and small-scale trading.

The new findings paint a more bloodthirsty picture. The majority of the injuries appear to have been caused by blunt instruments, such as antlers and clubs.

Continued on Next Page >>


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