Archaeologists investigating graves from the Upper Paleolithic
Period (about 26,000 to 8000 BC) uncovered several that indicated
Europe's prehistoric hunter-gathers may have practiced human
What they found were pairs or even groups of people with rich
burial offerings and decoration. Many of the remains were young or
had deformities, such as dwarfism.
The diversity of the individuals buried together and the special
treatment they received could be a sign of ritual killing, said
Vincenzo Formicola of the University of Pisa, Italy.
"These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices
were part of the ritual activity of these populations," Formicola
wrote in a recent edition of the journal Current Anthropology.
Most of the hunter-gatherers who lived in Europe during the
Upper Paleolithic Period buried their dead. Their graves — numerous
and usually filled with offerings such as beads and ivory — are
considered a good source of information on what they thought about
spirituality and the afterlife, Formicola said.
"All these multiple burials can hardly be the result of natural
events ... (and) human sacrifices could represent an additional
explanation," Formicola added.
Human sacrifices have never been apparent in the archaeological
record of Upper Paleolithic Europe. They do appear much later among
more complex ancient societies, such as the Egyptians. The new
findings could mean the hunter-gatherers were more advanced than
"What (the data is) suggesting is that the Upper Paleolithic
societies developed a complexity of interactions and a common system
of beliefs, of symbols and of rituals that are unknown in small
groups of modern foragers," said Formicola.