Stone Age Massacre Revealed in British Tombs

March 16, 2007

Gruesome evidence found in ancient burial chambers reveals a period of violence and instability in Stone Age Britain, according to archaeologists.

Signs of bloody massacres and fractured societies are emerging from research that used new dating techniques to age prehistoric skeletons and burial sites in southern England.

The sites include Wayland's Smithy in Oxfordshire, where the remains of 14 people show evidence of an ancient massacre, according to a team led by the U.K. government body English Heritage.

Eleven of the skeletons were of adult males, at least three of whom were likely killed by arrows, the team reported. One man still had the tip of a flint arrowhead embedded in his pelvic bone.

Two of the bodies appeared to have been scavenged and partially dismembered by wolves or dogs before burial.

Analysis using radiocarbon dating and other archaeological clues placed the age of all the bones at around 3570 B.C., some 800 years before Stonehenge was built in the same region.

(See related story: "Stonehenge Settlement Found: Builders' Homes, 'Cult Houses'" [January 30, 2007].)

The burials were previously thought to have spanned several centuries.

"We can now say they were put in the tomb at pretty much the same time," said Alex Bayliss, an archaeologist with English Heritage.

Violent Deaths

"Three of them were almost certainly killed by arrowheads found with the remains in the tomb," Bayliss said. "It's quite possible that there was some act of collective violence.

"It's as if there was a cattle raid or something," she added.

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