Mon. Nov 18th, 2019

Prehistoric murder under the hockey field | Science


In 2007, human bones began to appear from the earth. Excavators paving the ground to build a field hockey field in San Fernando de Cádiz stopped working. Archaeologists arrived and came across a huge necropolis of 59 graves built 6,200 years ago. Despite the temporary abyss, the pillars of today's societies, social classes, inequality, religious beliefs, love, violence were already present. Most were individual graves, without frills, the niches of the time. A few were larger and contained rich grave goods. In one of them appeared the bodies of a man and a woman melted in a hug, an endearing image that went around the world.

Mortal remains of the couple known as


Mortal remains of the couple known as "the lovers of San Fernando".

Now, the researchers of the field hockey field present the analysis of the two bodies found in the most monumental and rich burial of the entire cemetery. Their conclusion is that they are facing one of the oldest violent death cases in the Iberian Peninsula.

At that time San Fernando was an island separated by a good sea tongue from the continental coasts, the perfect moat before possible invaders. There they lived on agriculture, livestock and fishing. Because of the size of the cemetery it was an important and permanent settlement. The DNA analysis of some of the dead shows that they were European populations with a good part of genes from farmers, but still retained 20% of DNA from European hunters and gatherers. Some of them were related.

In the grave number 11, about two meters in diameter and covered with stone slabs, the bodies of two men appeared. The first was about 30 years old. In the middle of his forehead he had a deep wound in the skull that could have caused him death. He was buried in a fetal position and the grave was sealed. Some time later they reopened it, they removed the already peeled bones and there a second corpse was left, that of a man of about 45 years. This also presented a large wound in the skull, also possibly fatal. In the absence of other injuries and the little chance of injuries from accidents, anthropologists and archaeologists believe that the most plausible is that they are two violent deaths.

Fracture in the skull of one of the two individuals analyzed.


Fracture in the skull of one of the two individuals analyzed.

In this tomb was found the richest grave goods in the necropolis. “There was an amber necklace that had probably been brought from Sicily, clay pots, five bone needles that could be from a headdress in the hair, and a flint ax that by its composition could come from the Central system, from the area from Segovia, ”explains Eduardo Vijande, archaeologist at the University of Cádiz and co-author of the study. “These exclusive accessories tell us about the first inequalities in human societies. They arise right now, the neolithic, when the invention of agriculture and livestock generates the first accumulations of products and their owners become the first rich, compared to a majority with fewer resources. These imbalances generate violence. Apart from a violent death case located in Atapuerca 400,000 years ago and belonging to a Homo heidelbergensis, we believe that this is the oldest case of violent death known in the Peninsula. From this time the violence became widespread, cases of fatal aggressions, including killings, begin to appear throughout Europe, ”explains the archaeologist. The results of his study have just been published in International Journal of Paleopathology.

The anthropologist at the University of Granada Lydia Sánchez-Barba, who has analyzed the cranial remains, recognizes that it is very difficult to know the details of both deaths and to know if the two men were relatives. Although it was tried, it has not been possible to extract DNA from the remains. Nor is it possible to determine the time that passed between one interment and another. "What we do know is that they received a funeral rite different from the rest, with the most valuable trousseau, and that they are the only ones that show cranial injuries," he explains.

Years ago the archaeological excavations in the necropolis were finished. Above it is now the Pablo Negre municipal hockey field, which the Spanish team will often train, says Vijande. Probably the players do not know that under their feet there are still dozens of dead from 6,200 years ago, as a third of the entire necropolis could not be excavated.

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