Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Cranial Clusters: Mortuary Patterns in Eneolithic Verteba Cave, Western Ukraine


Anthropology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


Relatively little is known about the Eneolithic Tripolye-Cucuteni mortuary practices, as there are few known cemeteries. Here, we describe excavations of human burials from Verteba Cave located in Western Ukraine during the summers of 2008 and 2012. Ceramics and carbon dating place the cave use between approximately 3951 to 2620 cal BC. Commingled human cranial and post-cranial remains were excavated along with comingled faunal elements, bone and lithic tools, ceramic figurines, pottery, and spindle whorls. Two cranial clusters were found each containing four skulls positioned in a circle. The first cluster contained one young adult female, two adult males, and one unsexed adult. The female and two males exhibited injuries resultant from blunt force trauma. Three of the crania also have tympanic dehiscence suggesting they may be genetically related. The second cluster contained three adult males, and one adult female, and was accompanied by an aurochs horn. All of these crania had peri-mortem cranial fractures. Eight other crania were found along with cave wall and two partial calvaria were found in a nearby area of the cave. Four of these crania also exhibited peri-mortem trauma. The lack of mandibles associated with the crania indicates that they were likely de-fleshed before their placement in the clusters. The placement of only some of the crania into clusters suggests differential treatment for individuals, which may be indicative of differing social status or societal roles. These head burials are consistent with some Mesolithic cranial clusters from Germany where individuals were also victims of violence.

Conference Name

American Association of Pysical Anthropology Annual Meeting

Conference Location

St. Louis, MO

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