The Celtic inhabitants of a small, industrious Iron Age settlement in Dorset, England, are believed to have sacrificed a young woman by slitting her throat, before burying her body in a curious arrangement of bones. Archaeologists also unearthed a series of bizarre hybrid-animals, in which the bones of different animals were intentionally combined together in what is reminiscent of the mythological beasts of ancient cultures.
The burials of hybrid animal bones at the site recall myths from the Mediterranean and Near East about bird-woman harpies, goat-lion chimeras, eagle-lion griffins, man-goat satyrs, man-bull minotaurs and man-horse centaurs.
Ancient peoples imagined combining various animal and/or human parts into one fantastic and sometimes grotesque beast. Some were understood as monsters, others as wise counselors or guardians of shepherds and the countryside.
17th century illustration of a griffin, which combines parts from several different animals (Wikimedia Commons)
“One particularly bizarre arrangement of animal bones also involved a human skeleton,” reports The Independent. “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.”
Using geophysical and other scientific dating methods, the archaeologists, led by Miles Russell and Paul Cheetham, determined the community was inhabited from about 100 BC to 10 BC. The Celtic settlement consisted of 150 to 200 round houses. The people, possibly of the Durotriges tribe, engaged in a variety of industries, including pottery making, textile manufacturing and working of iron, lead and copper. The excavations are going on at North West Farm near Winterborne Kingston, Dorset, a 32,000 square meter (7.9-acre) archaeological site. According to classical sources, the ancient Celts were animists who honored the forces of nature and believed that certain animals were messengers of the spirits or gods.