Skalle från en stenåldersman med en läkt skada på ovansidan av huvudet. Foto: Fredrik Hallgren.
Cranium from a stone age man with a healed injury on the top of his head. Photo: Fredrik Hallgren.

“The majority of the crania have traces of healed injuries in the same area of the head. It seems repetitive and there are differences between women and men”, Anna Kjellström says. She works at the Stockholm University Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory and she is one of researchers who have examined the skulls.

The skulls come from a former lake in Motala, in eastern-central Sweden, excavated 2009–2013. Archaeologists found, among other things, remnants from at least ten people: nine adults and one infant. Two of the skulls were still mounted on stakes and at least seven had traces of healed injuries not caused by falling by incident. The women’s head injuries were in the back and on the right side of the head while the male skulls had injuries on the top of the head and in the face. The researchers also believe that after death the bodies were stored or buried in another place and then transported to the place where they were found.

People of importance

Anna Kjellström. Foto: Micke Agaton.
Anna Kjellström. Photo: Micke Agaton.

“The fact that so many had healed injuries suggests that these people were special in some way”, Anna Kjellström says.

The great number of findings and their concentration to one place make the researchers believe that these people were of importance. There are no similar findings in Europe, Anna Kjellström says.

During the Old Stone Age period, 8,000 to 7,500 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers living in smaller groups following animals according to season. But there were places where many groups of people gathered at certain times during the year. These places were of great ceremonial importance and people could build more permanent structures there.

Complex Stone Ace society

“Our findings give a more nuanced image of the Stone Age – it was a complex society with clear signs of planning and organisation”, Anna Kjellström says. The handling of human remains allows researchers to get an idea of the large world of religious notions that existed during the Stone Age.

“Placing heads on stakes may have been some kind of intimidation tactic to scare enemies, but the action might as well have had a different meaning for ancient people than today. In any case, it must have been a striking and spectacular view”, Anna Kjellström says.

More information

"Keep your head high: skulls on stakes and cranial trauma in Mesolithic Sweden". Article in Antiquity, Vol: 92, Issue: 361, pages 74-90.