26.04.2019 change 26.04.2019

Bear`s paw bones in 4.5 thousand years old tomb near Sandomierz

Archaeologists discovered bones of a bear`s paw in the grave, in which a man with a child was buried approx. 4.5 thousand years ago. It is a surprise for archaeologists - carcasses of domesticated animals were usually placed in burials from that period. The discovery was made near Sandomierz.

In the excavated niche, archaeologists found dismembered bodies of two people - an adult man and a small child. Nearby, in a large hollow, on the bottom of which fire had been burning, there were animal bones, including the bones of a bear`s paw.

The discovery was made accidentally a few years ago, when a resident of the village of Święcica discovered bones when digging a garage driveway on his property. Archaeologists examined the prehistoric burial.

In the course of the research, it was found that a large entrance cavity led to the niche proper and served as a place of performing rituals.

"The traces of such rituals include animal bones found in the cavity and traces of burning fire" - says archaeologist Monika Bajka, who led the excavations in Święcica in 2012. In recent months, specialists analysed the discovered bones.

"It turned out that at the bottom of the entrance cavity, before the funerary niche, there was a single cattle bone and an almost complete bear paw. The latter find is completely unique among the late Neolithic graves "- says PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Rzeszów, Elżbieta Sieradzka . Bone analysis was performed by Dr. Mirosława Zabilska-Kunek and Prof. Daniel Makowiecki.

Sieradzka adds that the remains of domesticated animals - mainly cattle and pigs - were usually placed in the graves from this period. "That is why the grave from Święcica provides new data on the rituals of the younger Stone Age communities" - the archaeologist believes.

The bear`s paw bones were found in the anatomical arrangement. According to the researcher, this indicates that they were not feast leftovers, but rather that the paw had been placed in the grave in its entirety.

"The bear`s paw could be an offering for the deceased" - she says.

The burial comes from the period when writing was not known yet. Therefore, scientists are looking for answers to the question about the significance of placing a bear`s paw in a grave by analysing the customs of peoples who lived more than 100 years ago, for example in Scandinavia. There are known writings of ethnographers on this subject.

"There are many examples of the symbolic meaning of this part of the carcass. In southern Fennoscandia (currently part of Finland and Russia - PAP) people believed that fangs, claws, penile bones and bear paws had healing powers, protected cattle from predators and gave their owner the animal`s senses and strength" - Sieradzka says. She adds that in Siberia, the function of deterring evil was attributed to amulets made from bear paws.

Among the equipment of the deceased buried in the grave in Święcica, there were also pig bones including a jaw. During the late Neolithic period, in some areas, animals played an important role in funeral rituals. Pig jaws are considered one of the most common elements of grave equipment of the then communities. Since this part of the carcass has no significant consumer value, researchers are convinced of its ritual significance.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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