Scientists discover an ancient skeleton, part of a ritual

  • A partial skeleton believed to be 5,000 years old was discovered in Denmark.
  • The skeleton may be part of a collection of “ant corpses” found across northern Europe.
  • Evidence also suggests that the “ant body” could have been there as part of a ritual.

An ancient and well-preserved skeleton – potentially the remains of a ritual sacrifice practiced over 5,000 years ago – was discovered by archaeologists in Denmark.

Researchers at ROMU, an organization representing 10 museums in Denmark, had excavated at the site of a planned housing development in Egedal municipality, near Copenhagen.

During his investigation, Christian Dedenroth-Schou, one of the team members, came across a femur sticking out of the mud. After digging deeper into the dirt, Dedenroth-Schou and his colleagues were able to find almost all the bones from both legs, a pelvis and a jaw.

Scientists understood it to be an “ant corpse”, referring to the dozens of usually male bodies found in bogs in Europe. The bodies often remain well intact, despite being thousands of years old, due to the oxygen-poor and acidic environments of the bogs, which make it difficult for bacteria to survive. This process is also how peat is formed from sphagnum moss.

One of the most famous ant bodies, the Tollundman, was also found in Denmark.

A jaw bone and femur bone in the bog

Courtesy of ROMU

The skeleton is not complete, and there are “no direct traces of sacrifice,” according to ROMU, but archaeologists believe the ant-person was not simply the victim of a mindless murder, but rather a planned ritual ceremony.

It is understood that bogs played a significant role for the ancient people of Northern Europe for the resources they provided and were considered the “gateway between the world of mankind and the world of the gods”, according to the National Museum of Denmark.

The antmen unearthed could have been offerings to the gods between 4,300 BC. and 600 BC – or between the Neolithic and the Iron Age.

A jaw bone and femur bone in the bog

Courtesy of ROMU

A Stone Age flint axe, remains of animal bones and pottery were found near the site of the skeleton found in Egedal, leading researchers to conclude that the objects may have been left as part of a ritual.

Emil Winther Struve, lead archaeologist at ROMU, told LiveScience that the ax had never been used, lending credence to the theory that the ax was used as an offering rather than a murder weapon.

“The find fits into a proven tradition of ritually burying both objects, people and animals in the bog. This was done extensively in antiquity, and this is most likely a victim of such a ritual,” says Struve in a press release. “Previous finds show that it is an area where ritual activity has taken place.”

Much about the skeleton — including the gender, where the person lived and when the person died — is still unknown. Emil Struve, the excavation leader, told Live Science that there was evidence that the body was from the Neolithic period because “traditions of human sacrifice go back so far.”

The site is now dry and the archaeologists hope to use DNA technology and do a more thorough excavation to find the rest of the bones when the ground thaws in the spring.

“One wonders if that person would be happy to be found, or if they would rather rest in peace,” said Dedenroth-Schou in a press release, translated from Danish. “After all, we don’t know much about their religion. Maybe we disturb a notion of the afterlife. But at the same time, we have an important task to ensure that the remains of a person are not just dug up with an excavator and end up in a big pile with dirt.”

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