Last summer, archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg and Kiel University excavated a dolmen, an ancient stone burial chamber, in Tiarp near Falköping in Sweden. The archaeologists believe the tomb has remained intact since the Stone Age period over 3,500 years ago. However, something strange was discovered – parts of the skeletons of the buried individuals were missing, raising intriguing questions.

Craniums and large bones that could have been removed from the tomb are absent, explains archaeologist Karl-Göran Sjögren. We don’t know if this was part of funeral rituals or something else.

The first analysis results confirmed that the tomb found in Tiarp is one of the oldest stone burial chambers in Sweden, dating to the Early Neolithic period around 3500 BC.

When examining the material from the tomb, researchers discovered hand and foot bones, rib fragments, and teeth. However, craniums and larger bones like thighbones and arms were scarce. This differs from what we usually see in megalithic tombs, the stone burial chambers from the Neolithic, says Sjögren. Normally, the missing bones are smaller foot and hand bones.

Torbjörn Ahlström, a professor of osteology from Lund University, studied the bone findings. He concluded the bones came from at least twelve individuals, including children and elders. But the archaeologists don’t yet know how they died.

We’ve seen no signs of injuries on the buried, so we don’t think violence was involved. But we’re still studying their DNA, which may reveal diseases they had, explains Sjögren.

The region of Falköping has long been known for its many later passage tombs dating to around 3300 BC. Agriculture arrived in Falbygden around 4000 BC, about 500 years before the Tiarp dolmen was built. The people buried there were likely farmers who grew crops and raised animals, eating dairy products.

Samples including bone DNA were collected last summer. According to Sjögren, Preliminary results show the DNA in the bones is well-preserved, meaning we can reconstruct family relationships between the tomb’s individuals – we’re working on this now.

Falbygden contains over 250 passage tombs built with stone blocks. But this dolmen is older, dating 200-150 years earlier, making it one of the oldest stone burial chambers found in Sweden and Scandinavia.

Another unique feature is its construction with small niches at each end, unlike other Falköping tombs. Further study of this intriguing ancient site continues to provide clues about our distant ancestors.


Sources

University of Gothenburg | Sjögren et al. 2023: K.-G. Sjögren/M. Blank/T. Ahlström/T. Axelsson/S. Dreibrodt/J. Müller, Tiarp Backgården. An Early Neolithic Dolmen in Falbygden, Sweden and Early Megalithic Tombs in South Scandinavia and Northern Central Europe. JNA 25, 2023, 213–242. DOI: doi.org/10.12766/jna.2023.8


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