The bones found in the Duvensee bog of the Schleswig-Holstein region provide evidence of Germany's oldest known burial.
Since the 1920s, archaeologists exploring the Duvensee bog in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein region have uncovered pieces of flint, evidence of hazelnut roasting, and bark mats from Stone Age campsites. But they never found any human remains — until now.
In October 2022, archaeologists uncovered 10,500-year-old cremated bones at the site, which once hosted scores of Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age campsites. Not only are these bones the first human remains discovered at the site, but they’re also northern Germany’s oldest-known burial.
According to Arkeo News, much of the ancient body had decayed. It wasn’t until archaeologists found the charred remains of a thigh bone that they realized that they’d stumbled across human remains for the first time. Archaeologists aren’t sure, however, how this person died, or if they were originally wrapped in bark or animal hides before their cremation.
The remains are one of the only ones found in Europe from the early Mesolithic period. Significantly, Arkeo News reports that a similar discovery of human remains from the era in Jutland, Denmark, also bore marks of cremation and burial. They believe that this suggests that ancient hunter-gathers preferred this method of dealing with their dead.
Given the evidence that ancient people used the Duvensee bog as a campsite, why have human remains been so elusive? As Live Science reports, archaeologists believe that ancient people buried their dead close to where they died, and didn’t use specialized graveyards until later eras.
“Maybe they didn’t bury people on the islands but only at the sites on the lake border, which seem to have had a different kind of function,” Harald Lübke, an archaeologist at the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, an agency of the Schleswig-Holstein State Museums Foundation, speculated to Live Science. He added that: “burning the body seems to be a central part of burial rituals at this time.”
Though little is known about the identity of the person found at the Duvensee bog site, archaeologists have a better idea of what life was like for ancient communities there. As Live Science reports, Stone Age hunter-gathers inhabited the site of an ancient lake some 15,000 to 5,000 years ago.
According to Live Science, ancient communities used the then-lake as a campsite. In addition to apparently cremating bodies, they speared fish and roasted hazelnuts, which led to the creation of larger and larger hearths.
“In the beginning, we have only small hazelnut roasting hearths, and in the later sites, they become much bigger,” Lübke told Live Science, noting that a changing climate and the proliferation of hazelnut trees might have contributed to the growth of the Stone Age hazelnut hearths.
Archaeologists have also uncovered flint tools at the bog site. Because flint doesn’t naturally occur in the region, Lübke told Live Science that ancient communities probably repaired their flint tools and weapons there after migrating to the bog for the fall hazelnut harvest.
The discovery of human remains at the site illuminates another facet of life for hunter-gathers who migrated to the bog, but many questions remain.
“We’ve only opened a new door here at the moment,” the archaeologists told Arkeo News. “But behind it, there are only dark rooms at the moment.”
After reading about the 10,500-year-old Stone Age bog bones found in Germany, see how archaeologists in the Czech Republic discovered a 7,275-year-old wooden well that might be the earliest known wooden structure. Or, discover how archaeologists in Ireland stumbled across the Gortnacrannagh Idol, a 1,600-year-old, eight-foot idol found in a bog.