In 2009, a team of archaeologists made a remarkable discovery in Motala, Sweden. They unearthed a site that would later be known as the ‘Tomb of the Sunken Skulls.’ This extraordinary find, dating back 8,000 years, featured skulls that had been mounted on wooden stakes. Today, we delve into this captivating archaeological site and uncover the secrets of one of its enigmatic inhabitants, ‘Ludvig.’
Revealing the Sunken Skulls Tomb
Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Vättern in the southeastern corner of Sweden, the Sunken Skulls Tomb came to light during preparations for the construction of a new railway line over the site called Kanaljorden. Before work could commence, a meticulous excavation was required to ensure that no archaeological treasures lay hidden beneath. What the archaeologists discovered was a mesmerizing relic from Sweden’s Mesolithic period.
The excavation team was in for a surprise as they unearthed the remains of up to 11 individuals, encompassing men, women, children, and even infants. Two of these human skulls were pierced with wooden stakes, with the pointed ends emerging from the base of the cranium. Many other skulls showed signs of similar treatment, while most of the adult skulls were curiously devoid of their lower jaws.
Recreating the Visage of ‘Ludvig’
One of the pierced skulls belonged to a man named ‘Ludvig,’ whose genetic information was employed to recreate his visage. The resulting bust portrayed him as a blue-eyed, brown-haired, and pale-skinned individual in his 50s. Astonishingly, a blonde, darker-skinned female is expected to join ‘Ludvig’ in the near future.
Forensic artist Oscar Nilsson was the mastermind behind this remarkable reconstruction. Nilsson’s choices were guided by the faunal remains found within the grave. ‘Ludvig’ was portrayed wearing the skin of a wild boar, emphasizing the significance of animal remains in the culture and religious beliefs of the time. An intriguing chalk design on his chest reminded us of our inability to fully grasp the aesthetic preferences of ancient societies. It underscored that these people were no less concerned with their looks and individuality than we are today.
The Rare Mesolithic Finds
Fredrik Hallgren, the head of excavation for the Swedish heritage foundation Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård Mälardalen, highlighted the exceptional nature of these skulls. They are the only known examples from the Mesolithic era, unlike the more commonly found historical examples of skulls mounted on wooden stakes, often associated with colonial practices.
One especially puzzling discovery was a female skull containing another woman’s temporal bone. Hallgren speculates that these two women might have been close relatives, possibly even mother and daughter, but DNA analysis is needed to confirm this intriguing theory.
Aside from the skulls, the excavation yielded a diverse array of findings, including bones from various body parts, numerous animal bones, and tools crafted from stone, antler, and bone. Among the more exceptional discoveries were a decorated pickaxe made from antler, bone points adorned with flint, and animal remains with probable symbolic significance to the people of that era. These artifacts were found arranged on a large stone packing, resembling a mass grave encased in stone at the bottom of the shallow lake.
The Tomb’s Mysteries
Several theories attempt to unravel the mysteries of the Tomb of the Sunken Skulls. One posits that this site served as a ritual place for secondary burials. After the decomposition of the deceased, their bones were exhumed from their original graves and the skulls prominently displayed on wooden stakes. Some of these skulls exhibited signs of burning, suggesting that the pointed ends were placed in the ground or in embers as part of the ritual. Following these ceremonies, the remains were reburied under the shallow lake, thus earning the site its evocative name, ‘Tomb of Sunken Skulls.’
An alternative hypothesis suggests that the skulls might have belonged to vanquished enemies. They could have been mounted on wooden stakes and brought back as war trophies. Scientific analysis, particularly isotope and DNA analysis, holds the key to unlocking more insights. Isotope analysis could reveal whether these individuals were local or from distant places, while DNA analysis may shed light on their relationships. So far, DNA data has been obtained from six of the nine skulls, offering insights into their skin, hair, and eye color.
It appears that fish was a significant part of the diet of the people buried at Kanaljorden, and they hunted large forest game, such as red deer and elk, as evidenced by the animal remains. This has led to speculations that the society responsible for these burials may have been nomadic, and the site might have served as a sacred gathering place.