Stone Age skeletons show women were likely sacrificed in Mafia-style killings, say archaeologists

Stone Age skeletons show women were likely sacrificed in Mafia-style killings, say archaeologists
  • Ancient remains found in France reveal two women were likely tortured and killed Mafia-style.

  • The women experienced "self-strangulation" using a ligature that bound their ankles to their necks.

  • Twenty similar ritualistic burials have been discovered at sites across Europe.

An archaeological discovery in France has revealed the Stone Age remains of two women thought to have been tortured and sacrificed in a form of murder associated with the Italian Mafia.

Though the remains were discovered in 1985, a study published last week in the journal Science Advances reveals the "atypical" positioning of the bodies.

The paper's authors believe the women could have died by "self-strangulation" using a ligature that bound their ankles to their necks. The torture is known as "incaprettamento," a homicide ritual of the Italian Mafia, sometimes used to punish people thought to be traitors.

A third woman was found in a normal burial position nearby.

"Killing people with homicidal ligature strangulation has been interpreted as a form of symbolic suicide, as it is the individual who, by strangling themselves, causes their death," said the study's authors.

The skeletons, found in "pit 69" at a site in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in France's Rhône Valley, are believed to have been buried sometime between 4,000 and 3,500 BC in an arrangement consistent with summer and winter solstice rituals in early farming societies.

The killings could have been part of ritual beliefs that a human sacrifice could ensure a good harvest and food security, said the archaeologists, noting similar practices existed in the Inca civilization of South America.

"There is always this idea that somebody is dying and that the crops will grow," Éric Crubézy, one of the paper's lead authors and a biological anthropologist at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, told CNN.

Other interpretations, reported Science Advances, believe it is a form of retainer sacrifice, "where officiants killed enslaved people, servants, relatives, wives, concubines, or others to accompany their masters, social superiors, or relatives into the afterlife."

How the first victim was likely buried in the pitScience Advances

One of the women had her "lower limbs bent and a fragment of grindstone positioned on her skull," the study states. The grindstone is a symbol of agriculture and harvest, it said.

Another was in a prone position, her knees bent, "with her neck resting on the thorax" of the first woman. This second woman had "two pieces of grindstone placed horizontally on her back."

It is thought that the violent deaths would have left the first woman struggling to breathe with the weight of the second woman on her neck, while the second woman would have also struggled to breathe, possibly leading to cardiac arrest.

Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and the area surrounding pits 69 and 70.
Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and the area surrounding pits 69 and 70.Science Advances

Throughout the Neolithic, or late Stone Age, era, the study states that "homicidal ligature strangulation" may well have become a common practice associated with ceremonies and ritual sites.

The study reviewed skeletons discovered at other archaeological digs across Europe spanning 2,000 years. Researchers found that there were 20 other likely instances of similar ritualistic murders at 14 different sites. Self-strangulation was the probable cause of death.

The study said the number of such rituals was likely higher, but there was insufficient information about skeletons at other archaeological sites to draw solid conclusions.

At the other sites, men and children have also been found, the study said.

The earliest example of this method of killing was at a Mesolithic site dating back to somewhere 5,400-4,800 BC.

Read the original article on Business Insider