Archaeologists Baffled By Discovery Of A Woman Buried Next To Her Husband — With Her Face Hollowed Out

Published November 6, 2023
Updated March 12, 2024

Archaeologists aren't sure why the woman's 1,000-year-old skeleton, unearthed in Eisleben, Germany, is missing all of its facial bones.

Woman With No Facial Bones

dpa news agency/XArchaeologists speculated that the woman suffered from some kind of fatal accident, but they’re not sure why her face is hollowed out.

Archaeologists excavating the site of a former imperial palace in Eisleben, Germany, made a curiously macabre find: a 1,000-year-old grave of a man next to a woman whose facial bones were missing. For now, archaeologists have no idea what happened to the woman, though the lack of disturbance around the grave suggests that she was buried that way.

As Ancient Origins reports, the double grave was discovered during excavations of an ancient imperial palace. The woman, just over five feet tall, is buried next to a man, slightly taller, who has all of his facial bones intact. Project leader Felix Biermann of the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeology explained to German media that the pair lived in the ninth century and were likely a married couple.

However, he had no answer for why the woman was missing the top of her head and facial bones. She possibly died in some kind of fatal accident that caused the facial injury, but archaeologists aren’t sure.

That said, they do have some ideas about the 1,000-year-old couple.

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According to the Daily Mail, the couple were likely wealthy in life, and the man likely worked as a dignitary. Not only were they laid to rest close to the castle, but the man was buried with a number of important items.

“Among other things, they found a knife, a belt set and the fittings for a so-called official staff, such as those carried by generals, on him,” Biermann told German media. “This is considered a dignitary’s accoutrement.”

But the woman buried next to him is not buried with any items. Archeologists aren’t entirely sure why, but they’ve speculated that she perhaps wanted to be buried with nothing due to her Christian beliefs.

Excavations Of Eisleben Palace

Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt/FacebookThe excavations of the ancient palace near Eisleben have turned up a number of fascinating discoveries.

“The fact that there was nothing with her is very unusual,” Biermann said. “Maybe she was already Christian, but the man was even more traditional. In Christianity, these kinds of additions were avoided.”

The odd discovery of the woman with a hollowed out face is just one of many things that archaeologists have unearthed during the excavations of the site. As Ancient Origins reports, they’ve also found the ruins of the ancient castle, once used as a defensive fortification; pit houses; and a royal palace that was constructed over the original in the 12th century.

This sprawling set of ruins suggests that a large population lived nearby 1,000 years ago. In recent years, it has offered archaeologists some valuable insights about what life was like there between 750 and 1024 C.E, when the Carolingian and Ottonian dynasties ruled.

“In the two outer castles of the fortified imperial palace, there was evidence of dense settlement with numerous pit houses,” Bierman explained. “This is an important insight into the infrastructure of the imperial palace and the areas where ordinary people lived, worked and created the economic foundations for the Carolingian-Ottonian center of power.”

The woman with no facial bones is just one small piece of this larger puzzle. But archaeologists are hopeful to learn more about her. Next, her remains — and the remains of her husband — will be examined in a lab. Experts will try to determine how the two died and, of course, what exactly happened to the woman’s face to remove all her facial bones.

After reading about the baffling discovery of a woman who was buried without any facial bones, go inside the head-scratching discovery of an Egyptian mummy buried with a golden tongue. Or, learn about the mysterious discovery of 8,000 Iron Age frogs uncovered in an English ditch.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "Archaeologists Baffled By Discovery Of A Woman Buried Next To Her Husband — With Her Face Hollowed Out.", November 6, 2023, Accessed April 19, 2024.