Innumerous children’s skulls dating back to the Bronze Age, were discovered around the perimeter of some ancient settlements in Switzerland and Germany. The skulls show signs of violence which probably led to their deaths. According to the archaeological studies, the skulls may have been offered as gifts for the local deities of the lake.
During the 1970s and 1980s, archaeologists discovered a series of ancient settlements dotted along some Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany. Excavations at these sites revealed more than 160 dwellings, along with hunting tools, ceramics, and other artifacts dating back to between 3,800 and 2,600 years ago. The villages would have been set up close to the lakes to provide ready access to fresh water, along with fish for eating, and reeds for weaving. However, the Bronze Age lake dwellers also regularly faced flooding. Archaeological evidence shows that the houses were built on stilts or wooden foundations and that homes were moved further away when lake levels rose, before being returned again after they receded.
During the Bronze Age it was common to societies to make sacrifices to the gods, not only to appease them but also as gifts in turn of the divine gifts; plentiful schools of fishes, good harvests and peace of example. Offerings were made by either burying the sacrifice in the ground or placing it in water. It was important that the right type of gift was sacrificed in the right way and in the right place, and water appears to have been one of the most important places to make such offerings, perhaps due to the belief that water was a “doorway” which led to the spiritual world. Archaeological discoveries, such as the bog bodies of Lindow Man and Tollund Man, show that humans also sometimes formed part of these offerings.
In the Bronze Age lake settlements in Switzerland and Germany, archaeologists not only found ancient artifacts but also found many children’s skulls encircling the perimeter of the villages. Many of these skulls had been placed there long after their initial burial, at a time when the settlements experienced the worst inundation from rising lake levels.
Some of the skulls were examined and it was found evidences of violence which was the cause of these children’s death. There were markings of axe blows and other head traumas. Apparently, these injuries do not have the uniformity associated with sacrifice or ritual killing, and it is more likely they were killed during times of conflict. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the burials suggest the skulls may have been offered after death as gifts to the lake gods to ward off flooding, as they had been intentionally placed at the high-water mark of the flood waters.
Across Europe as a whole, there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged. The results provide further insights into Bronze Age culture, revealing new information about how they treated their dead, and religious beliefs and rituals associated with natural calamities.