Ritual Clues Flow from Prehistoric Blood

By Bower, B. | Science News, December 23, 1989 | Go to article overview
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Ritual Clues Flow from Prehistoric Blood


Bower, B., Science News


Ritual clues flow from prehistoric blood

Never mind conventional wisdom; you can get blood from a stone. Anthropologists have extracted the blood of humans, sheep and an extinct form of cattle from the surface of a stone slab at an approximately 10,000-year-old agricultural village in Turkey. Analysis of hemoglobin in the samples leaves them with intriguing clues and questions about the ritual activities of early farmers.

The polished slab lies among the remains of a structure known as the "skull building," which contains more than 90 human skulls and several complete and partial human skeletons.

"We don't know exactly what was going on in the skull building, but human and animal blood was abundant on the slab," says Andree R. Wood of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. "It reinforces an argument for at least its occasional use for the cutting up of humans as well as of animals."

Human sacrifice is one grisly possibility, Wood notes, or human bodies may have been carted to the building after death and placed on the slab for some type of preburial ritual. The skulls show no evidence of decapitation.

Whatever took place in the building, it now appears that one of the world's earliest known farming villages had developed surprisingly complex traditions by that time, she contends. Previous estimates place the emergence of such villages no farther back than 10,000 years.

Blood from the slab, dated with an advanced technique called accelerator mass spectroscopy radiocarbon dating (SN: 12/16/89, p. 388), is about 9,000 years old, say Wood and Thomas H. Loy of the Australian National University in Canberra. They describe the study in the winter JOURNAL OF FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY.

Their method for removing blood from stone was described by Loy in 1983 and has since been used in the laboratory with artifacts dating from as early as 100,000 years ago.

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