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Cannibalised or Murdered? Researchers Unravel Mystery Behind Ancient Female Skull in Italy

Image for representation. (Reuters)

Image for representation. (Reuters)

The young woman suffered from several health issues. She either had chronic anaemic from inadequate nutrition or was suffering from pathogen-borne diseases.

Six years ago the skull of a woman, estimated to be aged between 24 and 35, who lived between 3,630 and 3,380 BC, in the Eneolithic period, was discovered. Only the cranium was found, inside the Marcel Loubens gypsum in Bologna, Italy, on a shaft in the cave. No other remains of her or others were discovered. The analysis of the skull now suggests the woman could have possibly died a violent death.

Cause of death:Studies of the damages to the skull made the researchers interpret the death of the woman as possibly a result of human intervention. The damages took place right around the time of her death and soft tissues from her head were also removed at this time. The presence of cut marks on the skull suggests the possibility that the woman was killed or cannibalised upon. The mandible was possibly dislocated during her death, which made it easy to access the soft tissues of her brain.

Alternatively, it could have been a brain surgery that led to her death. Such surgeries in Neolithic times did take place, as per the researchers. The presence of ochre pigment on the cranium suggests it may have been used to treat wounds.

Health of the woman:The young woman suffered from several health issues. She either had chronic anaemic from inadequate nutrition or was suffering from pathogen-borne diseases. She also had benign head tumours on her cranial bones and tooth decay.

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Strange customs:As per archaeologists, a strange funerary custom was practised in northern Eneolithic Italy, near the cave where the skull was found. Eneolithic Italians practised the ritual of dismembering corpses, particularly the skull of the individual, around the time of death. The archaeologists also learned that soft tissues from the skulls after decapitation were removed.

The skull’s journey:The skull fell into the cave after water and mudflow pushed it away from its original resting place. Archaeologists came to this conclusion after discovering sediment deposits inside the skull, coatings and changes of colour on its surface. The study by Maria Giovanna Belcastro of the University of Bologna and her colleagues was published in the journal PLOS ONE on March 3.

first published:March 05, 2021, 12:41 IST