23.07.2018 change 25.07.2018
Szymon Zdziebłowski
Szymon Zdziebłowski

Mysterious decorations on a woman`s bones in a tomb from a few thousand years ago

Unique decorations including parallel lines covered the bones of a young woman buried 4,5 thousand years ago in a barrow over the central Dniester (today`s Ukraine). According to scientists, the markings were made after death and the process of body decomposition.

A few years ago, a Polish-Ukrainian team of archaeologists in Porohy on the central Dniester (Ukraine) examined a set of mounds. In one of them rested a young woman aged 25-30.

"While drawing and photographing the burial, our attention was drawn to regular patterns, such as parallel lines visible on both elbow bones. At first, we approached the discovery with caution - maybe the traces were left by animals, we wondered" -says Danuta Żurkiewicz from the Institute of Archaeology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, who prepared an article on the decorations.

Only the recent analyses carried out with funds from the National Program for the Development of Humanities by experts from the Faculty of Chemistry of Adam Mickiewicz University and the Department of Forensic Medicine, Poznań University of Medical Science shed light on this issue. According to Żurkiewicz, the patterns are clearly man-made. A black substance was used - probably similar to tar obtained from wood, scientists suggest.

"It is surprising that the procedure of decorating the bones had to be done after death and the process of body decomposition. This is clearly indicated by the location of the decoration on the bone surface and the way dye was applied" - the archaeologist says. In her opinion, the recent finding proves how complicated funeral rituals were millennia ago.

"Some time after the woman`s death the grave was reopened, bone decoration was performed and the bones were re-arranged in anatomical order" - the researcher describes the course of making decorations.

According to Żurkiewicz, this discovery is unique - so far, no comparable custom among other prehistoric communities in Europe has been recorded. "Until now, the few similar discoveries have been interpreted as remnants of tattoos, but none of them have been analysed using so many modern methods, which is why they can not be confirmed with full confidence" - she argues.

The community living in the middle Dniester region approx. 4,500 years ago was engaged in nomadic shepherding - carts were used for longer distances. As a result, no permanent settlements were built, which is reflected in the lack of discoveries of houses from this period. In contrast, in the case of cemeteries - monumental burial mounds were made and played an important role in the life of contemporary communities.

"However, women were rarely buried in them. The deceased, whose bones were covered with patterns, had to be an important member of the community" - Żurkiewicz believes.

The latest finding is described in more detail in volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, which will be available online on the De Gruyter Open platform in August.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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