Monday, July 13, 2015

Mixed-Up Animal Burials from Ancient Dorset

Excavations of a Celtic site near Winterborne Kingston in Dorset, England, have turned up several bizarre hybrid animal skeletons, including:

  • A cow which, after probable sacrificial death, had had its own legs removed and deliberately replaced by four horse’s legs;
  • A sacrificed sheep with two heads – its own somewhat fragmentary one and, protruding from its hind end, that of a bull (picture above);
  • A horse with a cow’s horn protruding from its forehead – with the horn pointing inwards;
  • A cow’s upper leg bone with a horse’s hoof;
  • Two jawless cow skulls deliberately paired with a horse’s lower jaw;
  • A complete dog with three cow lower jaws radiating from it.

And, weird in a somewhat different way:
One particularly bizarre arrangement of animal bones also involved a human skeleton. A young woman appears to have been sacrificed (there was an indication that her throat had probably been slit) – and was then buried on a ‘bed’ of specially arranged cattle, sheep, dog and horse bones. Significantly these animal bones had been deliberately sorted to mirror the bones of the dead woman. The animals’ skull fragments formed the surface her head rested on, while the animals’ leg bones formed the surface her legs rested on.
The burials were not found in a separate compound, but strewn around settlement of about 150 roundhouses, dating to between 100 and 10 BCE, likely people of the Durotriges tribe.

What does it all mean? The excavators connect the hybrid animal burials to legends of mixed animals like the chimera and the sphinx, which are otherwise pretty much unknown among the Celts. I don't know about that, but I'm afraid I don't have an alternative explanation. Baffling.

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