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skulls in the lake
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Kanaljorden - Skulls in the lake
The depositions of ritual character in the former lake at Kanaljorden were found on and around a stone-packing, constructed on the bottom of the lake, a few metres from the former shore. The stone-packing measures c. 14x14m, it is built up by several layers of closely packed, large stones (up to 60cm). The stones have been placed by human action in the gyttja-layer, at a time when the lake still had open water. A large quantity of worked wood was found in connection with the stone-packing, the pieces of wood were found among and on top of the stones, but also in a scatter on the edge of the packing. A substantial part of the material consists of simply cut straight stakes. There are also examples of more elaborately worked wood. One of the latter objects interpreted as a stylised figure of a fish with gaping jaws and rounded tail fin. The wooden fish is fashioned with a carved shaft-hole in the middle, likely it was once mounted on one of the straight wooden stakes, perhaps displayed like an emblem above the water at this ritual place.

The most conspicuous aspect of the finds from the stone-packing at the bottom of the former lake is a considerable number of human bones, in all 130 intact and fragmentary bones. When the first human tibia was found in 2009, a hypothesis was formed that it belonged to a person who had been buried on the bottom of the lake, similar to as have been documented at the Danish site M
øllegabet (Skarup and Grøn 2004). However, rather than finding scattered bones from the same individual, we found a smaller number of bones from a dozen individuals, during the continued excavation.

According to the preliminary osteological analysis (Tove Bj
örk in preparation), the larger part of this material consists of more or less fragmented human crania. Some crania were found as more or less intact "skulls", with only smaller parts missing. Other were isolated fragments, for example a frontal lobe or a temporal bone. Even the more intact skulls were in reality often dissolved into their component bones (one complete adult cranium normally have 22 individual bones), retaining their spherical form by the sediments inside and around the skulls. Out of a total of 130 bones/fragments, 120 are pieces of skulls. The overwhelming number of the skull elements are pieces of calvaria (the upper part of the skull), only two mandibles (jaw bones) have been found. Some 75% of the crania elements can be ascribed to 11 identified persons, nine persons in the age span teenage to middle age (15-45 years old), the remaining two are very young children, a newly born and one child less than 18 months. The remaining crania fragments can not be matched with the identified individuals, they may belong to the identified 11 persons or they may represent additional individuals.

The human skeletal sample is thus heavily biased, with an over representation of calvaria both in comparison to mandibles, and to post-cranial bones. The bias can not be explained with reference to taphonomic factors, as sturdy bones are missing and fragile bones like those from infants are preserved. The youngest infant is a case in point, as this individual is in fact the only interred person with representation of bones from the whole body. Likely this newborn child was deposited whole, wrapped in some fabric. In contrast, the other ten individuals, are only represented by bones from calvaria. While it cannot be ruled out that the stray long bones and the single jaw from an adult may belong to one of these identified persons, they may as conceivably represent additional individuals. In any case, the sample is clearly biased by cultural selection.

The fact that calvaria were found without associated mandibula and neck vertebrae suggest that the skulls were deposited as already decarnated skulls rather then as
"heads" with adhering soft tissue. While there are some shallow marks of scraping on one of the skulls, there are no cut-marks that indicate active de-fleshing Likely the deceased individuals were buried in a primary grave, placed on a platform, or otherwise exposed so that the flesh decayed without further human intervention. Only once the bones were clean, were they retrieved for the inclusion in the ritual at the lake at Kanaljorden. There may have been some variation in this scheme, as one of the skulls have a lump of organic matter preserved inside the calvarium. Pending results from the laboratory analysis, the character of this organic material remain unknown. The guess during fieldwork was, that the organic material was the decomposed remains of the brain. If this is to be confirmed, it suggest that a rather short time expired between the death of this individual and the inclusion of the calvarium in the ritual at Kanaljorden.

Some of the skulls give the impression of having been placed deliberately in relation to each other. One of the pieces of crania not included in the MIND count, was a temporal bone placed inside the calvarium of another person. One skull was placed forehead to forehead to with a disassociated frontal-lobe. There are also evidence of a quite special treatment of the bones of the dead, as two of the skulls had wooden stakes inserted into the cranium. In both cases the stakes were inserted the full length from foramen magnum to the top of the calvarium. One of the stakes was preserved in its full length, it measures 47 cm and ends in a pointed end which is partly carbonized. The stake in the other skull was broken at the point of entry and was not visible during excavation, it was discovered during the preparation of the retrieved skull in the laboratory. The part of the stake embedded in the cranium is 19 cm long. Both stakes have a diameter of c.2,5 cm at the point where they enter the cranium, a dimension likely chosen to suite the insertion in to the foramen magnum. The observation that the intact stake was carbonized in the end, suggest that the stake with the skull could have been placed mounted above a fire or a bed of embers for display, before being deposited in the water.

The fact that at least two skulls still had remains of stakes inserted into them, hint at the possibility that more skulls may originally have been mounted in a similar fashions. Skulls thus mounted must arguably face the risk of slipping of the stake once the stake breaks through decay or other means. An indication of this is that all skulls are damaged in the region of the occipitale where a hypothetical stake should have been inserted. Furthermore, one of the disassociated fragments of a skull has a hole that penetrates the calvarium. It has not yet been determined if this was a wound or if it could be the result of the mounting of the skull on a stake. As already mentioned above, the wooden finds include a large number of strait wooden stakes, stakes that may originally have been raised to mount skulls, wooden fishes or other objects. Several of these have a carbonized end, suggesting that they at one point have been inserted into a fireplace or a bed of embers.

Other finds from the stone-packing in the former lake are tools made of bone, antler and stone, as well as animal bones. The bone/antler tools include an intact bone point with micro-blade inserts, barbed points, smooth points, an ornamented shaft-hole pick, and antler punches. A substantial portion of the bone/antler tools are intact. The objects of stone found at the stone-packing include micro-blades, flakes and round-butted axes. Among the animal bones there are examples of single bones that may have had a specific symbolic significance, as mandibula of brown bear, a badger cranium and antler from elk and red dear, but there also occur what seem to be more or less complete wild boar carcasses.

So far the ritual deposits have been 14C-dated by eleven AMS-dates on human bones (6212-5717 cal BC) and two dates on worked wood (5972-5675 cal BC).