An ancient pit – which is estimated to be 6,000 years old – filled with severed human hands, arms, and fingers, was discovered near Bergheim, a village in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace, north-eastern France.
Fanny Chenal, co-author of the study and an archaeologist at the University of Strasbourg in France, said that the discovery at Bergheim is evidence of a violent event of a unique nature, which took place thousands of years ago.
Although Chenal and her colleagues are unsure of what led to this gruesome occurrence, some researchers speculated that a plausible explanation might be a war or a violent fight.
In 2012, the pit was found in France by chance, like most archaeological discoveries of this sort. At that time, an archaeological surveying company was inspecting excavations made prior to a property development in Bergheim. The company examined an area the covered about five acres (two hectares).
Researchers stated in their paper that sixty ancient pits, called silos, were uncovered after the surveillance, fourteen of which had human bones in them. Pit 157, which was about 6.5 feet deep (two metres) and approximately five feet (1.5 metres) in diameter, was filled with human bones. It was completely unlike the rest of the pits.
About seven severed limbs, including arms, hands, and fingers, were found in the 5,335-year-old pit (the oldest of the sixty pits). Researchers say that one of the limbs likely belonged to a child between the ages of twelve and sixteen. The bones all had amputation or cut marks that were probably made with an axe of a knife.
The bodies of seven other people – four children, two adults, and an infant who was no more than one years old at that time – were also found in the pit, along with the severed limbs. One middle-aged man had a head wound that probably killed him, and his arm was cut off.
The researchers wrote that around 5,245 years ago, the body of a woman was placed into the same pit. Unlike the remains of the other people in the pit, the bones of the woman showed no signs or trauma or violence. The other Bergheim pits also contain bodies, but they show little to no signs of violence.
Chenal said that the most plausible explanation that would give a reason for the amputations would be war. The individuals found in the pits were probably farmers who lived in villages, the researchers said.
The new paper was published in the December 2015 issue of the journal Antiquity.