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Death, Decapitation and Display? The Bronze and Iron Age Human Remains from the Sculptor's Cave, Covesea, North-east Scotland

  • Ian Armit (a1), Rick Schulting (a2), Christopher J. Knüsel (a3) and Ian A.G. Shepherd
Abstract

Excavations at the Sculptor's Cave (north-east Scotland) during the 1930s and 1970s yielded evidence for activity in the Late Bronze Age, Late Iron Age, and early medieval periods, including a substantial human skeletal assemblage with apparent evidence for the removal, curation, and display of human heads. The present project, combining osteological analysis and a programme of AMS dating, aimed to place the surviving human remains from the site into their appropriate chronological context and to relate them to the broader sequence of human activity in the cave. A series of AMS determinations has demonstrated that the human remains fall into two distinct chronological groups separated by a millennium or more: one from the Mid-Late Bronze Age and one from the Late Iron Age. Osteological analysis suggests that while the Bronze Age group may, as previously suggested, include the remains of the heads of juveniles formerly displayed at the cave entrance, this was not the sole mechanism by which human remains arrived in the cave at this time. The Late Iron Age group provides evidence for decapitation and other violent treatments within the cave itself.

Des excavations de Sculptor's Cave (Nord-est de l'Ecosse) pendant les années 1930 et 1970 ont révélé des témoignages d'activités de l'âge du bronze final, de l'âge du fer final et du début du moyen âge, y compris un assemblage substantiel de squelettes humains associé à des témoignages d'ablation, de nettoyage et d'exposition de têtes humaines. L'actuel projet, qui associe une analyse ostéologique à un programme de datation AMS avait pour but de replacer les vestiges humains du site qui avaient survécu dans leur contexte chronologique approprié et de les rattacher à la séquence plus étendue des activités humaines dans la grotte. Une série de déterminations AMS a démontré que les restes humains se divisaient en deux groupes chronologiques distincts, séparés au moins par un millénaire: l'un couvrait l'âge du bronze moyen et final et l'autre l'âge du fer final. L'analyse ostéologique donne à penser que, tandis qu'il se peut que le groupe de l'âge du bronze, comme évoqué précédemment, ait compris les restes de têtes de jeunes gens auparavant exposées à l'entrée de la grotte, ce n'était pas le seul mécanisme pour que les restes humains arrivent dans la grotte à cette époque. Le groupe de l'âge du fer final atteste de décapitation et d'autres actes de violence à l'intérieur de la grotte ellemême.

Ausgrabungen in der Sculptor's Höhle in Nordostschottland in den 1930er und 1970er Jahren erbrachten Hinweise auf ihre Nutzung in der Spätbronzezeit, Späteisenzeit und im Frühmittelalter, darunter ein umfangreiches Ensemble menschlicher Knochen, das offenbar Belege für das Entfernen, das Kuratieren und das Zurschaustellen menschlicher Köpfe liefert. Das gegenwärtige Projekt, das osteologische Analyse und ein Programm zur AMS Datierung umfasst, zielte darauf, die erhaltenen menschlichen Überreste des Fundplatzes ihrem jeweiligen chronologischen Kontext zuzuordnen und sie in Beziehung zu setzen zur allgemeinen Abfolge menschlicher Aktivitäten in der Höhle. Eine Serie von AMS-Bestimmungen zeigte, dass die Menschenknochen zwei unterschiedliche chronologische Gruppen bilden, die durch ein Jahrtausend oder mehr getrennt werden: eine aus der mittleren Spätbronzezeit und eine aus der späten Eisenzeit. Osteologische Untersuchungen legen nahe, dass zwar die bronzezeitliche Gruppe, wie bereits vorgeschlagen wurde, auch die Reste von Köpfen juveniler Individuen enthält, die zuvor am Höhleneingang zur Schau gestellt worden waren, dass dies aber nicht die einzige Handlungsweise war, durch die menschliche Überreste in dieser Zeit in die Höhle gelangten. Die späteisenzeitliche Gruppe liefert Hinweise für Enthauptungen und andere gewalttätige Körperbehandlungen in der Höhle selbst.

Las excavaciones realizadas en la Cueva del Escultor (noroeste de Escocia) durante los años 30 y en los 70 descubrieron evidencia de actividad en la Tarda Edad del Bronce, la Tarda Edad del Hierro y la Alta Edad Media, que incluye un conjunto de restos óseos humanos que parecen indicar la separación, curación, y exhibición de cabezas humanas. El proyecto de investigación actual combina el análisis osteológico con un programa de dataciones AMS, con el objetivo de situar los restos humanos que se conservan de este yacimiento en el contexto cronológico adecuado, y de ponerlos en relación con la secuencia más amplia de actividad humana en la cueva. Una serie de dataciones AMS ha demostrado que los restos humanos se dividen en dos claros grupos cronológicos separados por más de un milenio: uno de la Edad del Broce Media a Tarda, y el otro de la Tarda Edad del Hierro. El análisis osteológico indica que, tal como ha sido sugerido previamente, mientras que el grupo de la Edad del Bronce puede incluir las cabezas de jóvenes que habían sido previamente expuestas en la entrada de la cueva, este no fue el único procedimiento por el que restos humanos llegaron a la cueva en ese periodo. En el grupo de la Tarda Edad del Hierro hay indicios de decapitación y otros tratamientos violentos dentro de la misma cueva.

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