About 6,200 years ago, 41 people who died on the territory of present-day Croatia were buried in a mass grave. A new analysis of the remains reveals that these individuals may have been killed by members of their own community.
The ages of the bodies in the tomb ranged between 2 and 50, and half of them belonged to children. The scientists behind the new study found that the fatal blows landed on the back of the skull, and there were no signs of victims trying to protect themselves on their arm bones.
Genetic analyzes also showed that nearly 70 percent of those who died were not closely related to other victims, but they all shared common ancestors. Researchers suspect that these people were slaughtered indiscriminately because of a sudden population explosion or climate change that depleted resources.
The mass grave in Croatia was discovered in 2007 when a man from a small village in the Potocani hills began digging a foundation for the construction of a garage. Mario Novak, lead author of the new study and head of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Anthropology in Croatia, said archaeologists began examining the mass grave the day it was discovered.
Analysis of the bone, earth and pottery fragments taken from the two-meter-wide and one-meter-deep pit indicate that the tomb dates from the BC. He revealed that it was excavated in 4200 BC. It was determined that 21 of the victims were children between the ages of 2 and 17, and 20 of them were adults between the ages of 18 and 50. Of these, 21 were men and 20 were women.
How and why were 41 people killed?
In the new study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS, Novak and colleagues collected DNA samples from the remains and analyzed the bones of 38 people. Most of the bodies were found to have wounds on the back of the skull caused by the impact. Mass graves in medieval Europe often housed people of all ages and genders who succumbed to the black plague, Novak said, but victims in the Potocani pit died from violence, not from contagious disease. “The only plausible scenario is massacre,” the researcher said.
The distribution of men and women, adults and children in the tomb was roughly even, and there were no wounds on their limbs or faces. That’s why it was stated that they were not killed in a conflict. It is not known whether the victims were tied up or incapable of defending themselves. But Novak says, “If someone attacks you with a stick or a sword, you reflexively raise your forearm to protect your head. This would have left cut marks on the arm bones of at least some corpses. “But we didn’t see any defensive injuries,” he says.
Genetic analyzes showed that only 11 of the victims were close relatives. This suggested that the massacre did not target a particular family. Novak described the massacre as “random killings without any discrimination regarding gender or age”.
The genetic data also showed that most of the deceased shared a common ancestry. This means that they are not a convoy of new immigrants to the region. For this reason, it is estimated that the massacre was caused by an event that led to the depletion of resources.
Archaeologists and climate scientists suggested that the most likely scenario in other massacres that took place in Germany and Austria about 5,000 years ago was climate change or population explosion. Prolonged climate change causing floods or droughts is thought to have led to conflict over valuable resources in the past.
It is stated that one of these conflicts resulted in a massacre in Potocani. “By examining such ancient massacres, we can try to understand the psychology of these people and perhaps prevent similar events today,” says Novak.
We have evidence of massacres dating back 10,000 years. The only thing that has changed today is our vehicles and weapons. I don’t think human nature or psychology has changed much.