8,000-Year-Old Spike-Mounted Skulls Show That Scandinavia Has Always Been Hardcore

This is the earliest example of skull-mounting in Europe. Fredrik Hallgren.

Stone-Age Scandinavia was hardcore, as you might imagine.

Not much is known about Mesolithic Scandinavia, but new findings suggest it was a land with its fair share of conflict, mutilations, and spike-mounted skulls.

A new study, published in the journal Antiquityhas described a number of mutilated skulls, some of which appear to have been mounted on stakes. While plenty of cultures throughout the world have placed skulls on stakes, either as trophies or a “back off” signal to enemies, this would be the earliest known example found in Europe.

The 8,000-year-old skulls were excavated several years ago at a lake near Motala in modern-day Sweden. Within this watery grave, archaeologists discovered the remains of nine adults, one newborn child, and numerous animals. Seven of the individuals exhibited blunt force trauma to the head. Many of these injuries were seemingly dished out before death, suggesting the people were cared for.

There were also differences in the way males and females had been injured, although this could be a coincidence. The females had injuries to the back of the head, while the males had injuries to the top of the head. The location of the trauma suggests it was caused by violence, not an accident. It’s also clear that the bodies were further mutilated before they decomposed.

“The events do not appear to be random, but rather a series of conscious choices,” the study notes.

Cranium with wooden stake still embedded. Fredrik Hallgren.

Strangest of all, two of the skulls had a wood stake still embedded in their skulls (image above). The archeologists can only speculate why, especially as this has not been documented at this time in the local area before. Nevertheless, if other cultures are anything to go by, this is a ceremonial display, perhaps acting like trophy skulls.

“The findings give a more nuanced image of the Stone Age  it was a complex society that shows clear signs of planning and organization," Anna Kjellström, from Stockholm University’s Department of Archaeology, explained in a statement.

"Placing heads on piles may have been a kind of intimidation tactic to scare enemies, but we mean that the action might as well have had a different meaning for ancient people than today. In any case, it must have been a stunning and spectacular view," she added.

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