A Deadly Inheritance

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

The Italian mafia has long employed one particular brutal means to teach a lesson: It places errant individuals on their stomachs with a rope around their ankles and neck, which leads to a slow strangulation by the weight of their legs.

It’s called “incaprettamento,” and it sends a clear message.

Now, a new paper on Stone Age Europe has highlighted how early humans did the same thousands of years ago, Science Magazine reported.

In 1984, forensic anthropologist Eric Crubézy discovered the skeletal remains of three women buried in a Stone Age structure built to resemble a grain silo in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, a 5,600-year-old site in France.

At the time, he noticed how the individuals were buried in an odd and unnatural position. Recently, however, after reading about the Italian Mafia’s “incaprettamento,” he realized the ancient humans he found were bound in a similar position.

That prompted him and his team to revise the assessment of the Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux site, as well as study 15 other Neolithic sites across Europe, from Poland to the Iberian Peninsula.

The researchers found 20 more examples of skeletons bound similarly, all of which were buried between 5500 BCE and 3500 BCE, when agriculture was spreading across Europe.

There were other similarities to Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, including the silo-like structures and the presence of animal remains with the human skeletons. The animals were likely sacrificed in fertility rites, which were common among ancient agricultural societies.

While violence in the Neolithic period is nothing new, the prevalence of these burials suggests that the prehistoric cultures shared common beliefs or rituals despite being separated by large distances and centuries.

“It’s the same rite but found in different cultures,” said Crubézy. “It’s something that unifies people at this time.”

Still, other scholars remained cautious about some of the study’s assertions, such as that the buried individuals were tortured and sacrificed and the speculation that “some unifying cosmology” existed among the early farmers.

Whether or not Crubézy’s theories are correct, those types of burials began disappearing around 3500 BCE and were replaced by large stone monuments, such as Stonehenge.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at hello@dailychatter.com.

Copy link