TechRitual animal sacrifices. Thousands of bones discovered in Europe

Ritual animal sacrifices. Thousands of bones discovered in Europe

Bones found in Spain
Bones found in Spain
Images source: © National Project Building Tartessos

6:22 AM EST, November 26, 2023

Archaeologists have discovered thousands of animal bones, dating back to the Iron Age, in Spain. This has prompted speculation regarding why these creatures were buried.

A total of 6770 bones from 52 different animals were unearthed at the Casas del Turuñuelo site. This location was a habitable settlement during the 5th Century B.C. According to researchers, these remains suggest the site was an ancient sacrificial pit.

The findings include the skeletons of at least 41 horses, six cattle, four pigs, and a dog. The animals were buried periodically over an undefined timespan. However, the analysis of the bones has raised intriguing questions for scientists.

The sacrificial pit

Interestingly, the first two batches of animal remains were interred in the pit in a pristine state, often in pairs and arranged in a ritualistic manner. While the third layer displayed signs of butchery. This has led to the hypothesis that the animal sacrifice ritual might have eventually evolved into a feast, during which the meat of the most recently interred animals was consumed.

Bone analysis indicates that the sacrificed animals were healthy and did not die as a result of random, unplanned events. Damage patterns on the horse skeletons, coupled with the fact that they were buried in pairs, suggest they may have been used for pulling during their lifetime, and potentially even for riding. These animals might have served the warriors of the Iron Age. Additionally, researchers have found evidence of teeth marks suggesting the use of some form of bridle by the riders at that time.

Further evidence suggests a ritual context is traces of charred plant substances, typical of burnt offering rituals.

History records similar sacrifices

Though this discovery of mass animal sacrifices in the Mediterranean region is remarkable, several literary sources mention similar practices. For instance, in Homer's 'Odyssey', the tale of King Nestor offering 81 black bulls as a sacrifice is recounted. Similarly, the 'Iliad' narrates the story of Peleus, Achilles' father, offering 50 black rams to the gods.

Related content