As soon as a person dies, his body is usually buried or cremated. But in some ancient societies, corpses after death used different ways, or preserved their parts according to certain rituals. In some cultures it was believed that the body of a deceased person, if used in various rituals, can help the living. And these practices led to rather eerie archaeological findings.
1. Bowls of skulls
Bowls from skulls were made in many different cultures for different periods of time. Basically, they were made by separating the skull from the corpse and cutting out a cup from it. Usually the carved images on the skull were made on the theme of Christ’s sufferings, but sometimes it was possible to find decorative engravings. The three oldest skull bowls were found in the cave of Gough in Somerset, England, and their age is 14,700 years.
They were found in a cave with other human remains that were probably opened to access the bone marrow. Other skulls that were processed after the death of their “owners” and, possibly, were used as cups, were found in Navipukio in Peru (400-700 AD) and in the cave of El Mirador in Spain (Bronze Age) .
In the Neolithic era in Herksheim (Germany), mass production of bowls from skulls was established. A number of historical sources claim that the Vikings and Scythians used the skulls of their defeated enemies as cups to gain the power of the dead, or as a way to assert their authority.
Historical records mentioned the use of skulls as a drinking tool among the Aghori sects in India and Aborigines in Australia, Fiji and other islands in Oceania. Tibetan bowls of skulls, known as “kapalas”, were used by Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
2. Bones as tools
In the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico, the skeletons were found to be practical. The pre-aztec society created many everyday items, such as buttons, combs, needles and spatulas, from the bones of recently deceased people between 200 and 400 AD. They used the bones of the hips, shins and skulls for this purpose. For scraping the flesh from the bones (because “material” was taken from “fresh” corpses, otherwise the bones became too fragile over time), stones were used.
The oldest bone used as a tool was used by Neanderthals (it was the skull), and its age was at least 50,000 years old. Bone was found among other Neanderthal remains near the Vultron River in France and was used to sharpen stone tools.
3. Bones in the quality of jewelry
Bones often made jewelry. Human skulls were used to make oval amulets with a hole drilled at one end, around 3500 BC. in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Similar pendants were found in Port Conti, La Lance and Consisi (Switzerland).
Necklaces made from bones of hands and feet were found in Mexico and the United States. Bones were strung on a long chain or made of necklaces in the form of pendants. It is believed that such decorations were made from dead enemies to symbolize victory.
4. Bones as musical instruments
The Aztecs used musical instruments, called omichikaouastli, which were made from human bones (usually legs or hands). Similar tools were found on archaeological sites throughout the former Aztec empire. Sometimes they were made from animal bones, such as a turtle’s shoulder or a whale’s rib.
Tibetan Buddhists used a pipe-like tool made of human thigh bone, called kandling. It was usually used for tantric and funeral rites and had to remind us that the human body is perishable and short-lived. Bones were taken mainly from criminals or killed enemies. The tool appeared in India 1500 years ago and spread throughout Tibet in 800 AD.
5. Ritual of the destruction of corpses
In modern Lapa do Santo, Brazil, some of the oldest human skeletons of the New World were discovered, which were found deep in a cave in the rainforest. People lived there 12,000 years ago and originally buried their dead completely untouched.
However, 9,600 – 9,400 years ago, funerary practices of local people changed, and the dead began … to maim. The teeth of the corpses were torn out after death, and the bodies were dismembered and deprived of flesh. There is evidence that the corpses were burned or eaten, and their bones were folded into the skulls of other dead.
6. Ritual decapitation
Separation of the head from the body was practiced all over the world and was usually used to demonstrate its power or victory over the enemies. One of the skeletons in Lapa do Santo was beheaded after death, and his head was unscrewed. The head was buried separately from the body, and the person’s hands were located above the face, one palm up, and the other – down.
In Dorset, England, a mass grave of 54 Scandinavian Vikings was discovered, dating from 910 to 1030 years of our era. They were all male youth (15-25 years), and on the remains did not find evidence of wounds received in battle. Their bodies were dumped together, and 51 skulls are buried in a separate pile (3 heads are missing and have not yet been found). It is assumed that all the dead were important members of one group, and their heads were chopped off as a token of victory over these Vikings.
7. Dried heads
The Khiva tribes from the Amazon jungle in Southern Ecuador and Northern Peru practiced drying their enemies’ heads. These heads are called “tsantsa” and they were created in order to stop the “escape” from the corpse of the spirit, who could avenge that he was killed, and also to show other tribes how strong the tribe is in practicing such a custom.
The severed head was boiled at a certain temperature, then it was sewn up by eyelids, filled the mouth with hot stones and sand, “stitching” it with pegs, and also rubbing with charcoal. After completing the “drying” the head was worn around the neck. Despite the fact that this is an ancient practice, it lasted until the XX century and was considered a lucrative custom, until in the 1930s the sale of dried heads was not banned.
8. Treatment of vampires
Vampires were afraid all over the world, as a result of which the bodies of people suspected of being vampires were subjected to certain procedures after death, so that the dead did not return from the next world and did not terrorize the living.
In Europe, the dead were usually inserted into the mouth of a brick, often knocking out teeth before burial. Other bodies pierced the stakes after death to make sure that the dead are really dead. Some even decapitated, and then buried on their sides.
9. Honey people-sweets
Unlike other methods listed above, this process began before the death of a person. In the 12th century in Arabia, some people who thought that they would soon die, started eating and drinking only pure honey, and also used it for washing.
In the end, this practice killed them, and the corpses of such people were placed in stone coffins filled with honey. After a couple of centuries, the bodies were removed from the graves, broken into small pieces and sold at the bazaar as therapeutic sweets.
10. Possible cannibalism
Although this form of “modification” is not an intentional way to change the body or skeleton, cannibalism leaves its marks on the bones of the victim. In El Cidron, Spain, there are remains of 12 Neanderthals that were most likely eaten by other Neanderthals 49,000 years ago.
Their bones of arms and legs were opened to extract the bone marrow, and on the bones there are traces of slices, which indicates that they were removed from the flesh. Traces of teeth also found on the 800,000-year-old bones of the ancestors of people in the Grand Valley, Spain.