Human Sacrifice May Have Taken Place at the 'German Stonehenge'

A 2016 reconstruction of Pӧmmelte, a henge-like structure in eastern Germany that was originally constructed about 4300 years ago.
A 2016 reconstruction of Pӧmmelte, a henge-like structure in eastern Germany that was originally constructed about 4300 years ago.
iStock

An ancient circular wooden monument in Germany—similar in age and appearance to England's Stonehenge—may have been a site for human sacrifice.

According to Smithsonian, German archaeologists André Spatzier and François Bertemes excavated a variety of Neolithic and Bronze Age antiquities dating back to the period between 2321 and 2211 BCE from Pӧmmelte, the "German Stonehenge" located in northeastern Germany. Among the broken drinking vessels, stone axes, and animal bones they expected to see (such relics were distinctive of the era’s Bell Beaker culture), researchers also found the dismembered bodies of 10 women and children.

Four bodies showed signs of skull trauma and rib fractures that occurred before death, researchers write in the journal Antiquity. The skeleton of a teenager had tied hands. All 10 bodies were found in positions suggesting they were thrown into the burial shafts.

“It remains unclear whether these individuals were ritually killed or if their death resulted from intergroup conflict, such as raiding,” researchers say in the study.

Those 10 bodies stood in contrast to the nearby graves of 13 men (all between 17 and 30 years old at death), which were buried in a respectful manner. The gender-specific violence and burial differences shown at Pӧmmelte make ritual sacrifice a likely scenario, researchers say.

Spatzier told Live Science that Pӧmmelte was in use for about 300 years before it was destroyed—likely intentionally—around 2050 BCE. The site was discovered in 1991 when aerial photographers spotted it shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Laser Scans Detect Hidden Buildings and Tunnels Beneath Alcatraz Prison

iStock.com/f8grapher
iStock.com/f8grapher

Isolated in the San Francisco Bay and surrounded by steep cliff faces, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary seemed like the most secure place to keep dangerous criminals in the mid-20th century. But it's recently come to light that every inmate on Alcatraz Island lived above a series of potential escape routes that predated the prison's construction, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In a new study published in the journal Near Surface Geophysics, archaeologists reported their discovery of structures and artifacts beneath the Alcatraz prison yard, including underground buildings, tunnels, and ammunition magazines. Guided by historical maps, documents, and photographs, they used laser scanning technology and ground-penetrating radar to locate the subterranean fortress close to the surface.

The site dates back to the mid-19th century, when Alcatraz Island was used for military purposes. The same natural features that would later make Alcatraz an appealing prison also made it an ideal coastal fortification. Enough brick buildings were built there to house 200 soldiers and enough food was shipped in to feed them for four months.

But the fortification wasn't used for its original purpose for very long. It was transformed into the West Coast's official military prison during the Civil War, and in the 1930s, the government turned it into a federal prison. Instead of tearing down the forts and tunnels leftover from its military days, workers left them intact and built over them to save money. Archaeologists plan to investigate the underground structures further without disturbing the historic site.

Alcatraz Prison closed in 1963, so the underground tunnels no longer pose a security problem. Today the island is part of the U.S. National Park Service and is a popular tourist attraction.

[h/t San Fransisco Chronicle]

The Site Where Julius Caesar Was Assassinated Will Open to the Public in 2021

iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina
iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina

Besides being a sanctuary for stray cats, Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome is best known as the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 22 times by assassins in 44 BCE. As the city's oldest open-air square, the spot is an important piece of Roman history, but it's fallen into disrepair. Now, Condé Nast Traveler reports that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen to the public following a $1.1 million restoration project.

The site includes four ancient temples, a medieval brick tower, and the ruins of the senate house where Caesar was murdered. About 20 feet below street level, it was excavated under the rule of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, and has remained largely closed to the public since. Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is overgrown and accessible only to the feral cats that live there.

On Monday, February 25, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen in the second half of 2021. To get the site ready for the public, the city will add restrooms, install lights, and build walkways that allow visitors to explore the area. Stone ruins, some of which are stacked into piles, will be secured, and artifacts currently sitting in storage will be moved to a museum. The one area the project will avoid is the corner where the cat sanctuary is located.

Rome, of course, is filled with ancient ruins—some that residents weren't even aware of until recently. In 2014, a 2000-year-old Roman road was unearthed during the construction of a McDonald's.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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