An isolated human cranium, dated to the early Eneolithic period, was discovered in 2015 at the top of a vertical shaft in the natural Marcel Loubens gypsum Cave (Bologna area, northern Italy). No other anthropological or archaeological remains were found inside the cave. In other caves of the same area anthropic and funerary use are attested from prehistory to more recent periods. We focused on investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of this individual, since the cranium shows signs of some lesions that appear to be the results of a perimortem manipulation probably carried out to remove soft tissues. Anthropological analyses revealed that the cranium belonged to a young woman. We analysed the taphonomic features and geological context to understand how and why the cranium ended up (accidentally or intentionally) in the cave. The analyses of both the sediments accumulated inside the cranium and the incrustations and pigmentation covering its outer surface suggested that it fell into the cave, drawn by a flow of water and mud, likely from the edges of a doline. The accidental nature of the event is also seemingly confirmed by some postmortem lesions on the cranium. The comparison with other Eneolithic archaeological sites in northern Italy made it possible to interpret the find as likely being from a funerary or ritual context, in which corpse dismemberment (in particular the displacement of crania) was practiced.

Unveiling an odd fate after death: The isolated Eneolithic cranium discovered in the Marcel Loubens Cave (Bologna, Northern Italy)

Belcastro, Maria Giovanna;Nicolosi, Teresa;Sorrentino, Rita;Mariotti, Valentina;Pietrobelli, Annalisa;Bettuzzi, Matteo;Morigi, Maria Pia;Benazzi, Stefano;Talamo, Sahra;Pisani, Luca;Grandi, Luca;Baraldi, Pietro;Zannini, Paolo;Scarponi, Daniele;De Waele, Jo
2021

Abstract

An isolated human cranium, dated to the early Eneolithic period, was discovered in 2015 at the top of a vertical shaft in the natural Marcel Loubens gypsum Cave (Bologna area, northern Italy). No other anthropological or archaeological remains were found inside the cave. In other caves of the same area anthropic and funerary use are attested from prehistory to more recent periods. We focused on investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of this individual, since the cranium shows signs of some lesions that appear to be the results of a perimortem manipulation probably carried out to remove soft tissues. Anthropological analyses revealed that the cranium belonged to a young woman. We analysed the taphonomic features and geological context to understand how and why the cranium ended up (accidentally or intentionally) in the cave. The analyses of both the sediments accumulated inside the cranium and the incrustations and pigmentation covering its outer surface suggested that it fell into the cave, drawn by a flow of water and mud, likely from the edges of a doline. The accidental nature of the event is also seemingly confirmed by some postmortem lesions on the cranium. The comparison with other Eneolithic archaeological sites in northern Italy made it possible to interpret the find as likely being from a funerary or ritual context, in which corpse dismemberment (in particular the displacement of crania) was practiced.
PLOS ONE
Belcastro, Maria Giovanna; Nicolosi, Teresa; Sorrentino, Rita; Mariotti, Valentina; Pietrobelli, Annalisa; Bettuzzi, Matteo; Morigi, Maria Pia; Benazzi, Stefano; Talamo, Sahra; Miari, Monica; Preti, Nevio; Castagna, Lucia; Pisani, Luca; Grandi, Luca; Baraldi, Pietro; Zannini, Paolo; Scarponi, Daniele; De Waele, Jo
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11585/865522
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