How did this skull end up alone inside a cave in Italy?

Archeology is the science responsible for studying cultures and civilizations of the past. And it is through archaeological discoveries that traces of ancient societies and cultures are discovered. Thus, it is possible to better understand how a certain people lived, what their habits and customs were. Even what led to its end.

In 2015, an isolated clue to a macabre mystery was found thousands of years ago. The mystery revolved around a single piece.

Finding this skull was not an easy thing. It was well hidden, without the lower jaw, and could only be reached by traversing a difficult passage in the cave called Meander della cattiveria, Labyrinth of Malice translated, and then climbing a vertical axis with a height of 12 meters. The skull was on a rocky ledge.

Because of this difficult access to the site, the speleologists were not able to recover until 2017. It was then that they had the chance to study this ancient and mysterious specimen.

The skull turned out to be really quite old. Radiocarbon dating suggested that it was from a person who lived sometime between 3630 and 3380 BC That time was the Eneolithic period, also known as the Chalcolithic.

In the same region, other eneolithic human remains were found. They weren’t in the cave, but about 600 meters away. Because of that, a larger context makes some sense.


However, the question remains how exactly did this skull get so far from its contemporaries and perch on top of a ledge? According to anthropologist Maria Giovanna Belcastro, from the University of Bologna, several factors were at play.

She was the first author of the new analysis regarding the unusual fate of this skull. Along with her team, she did an investigation into the skull. And they saw that he was probably from a young woman between 24 and 35 years old.

Evidence of various injuries to the sides is likely, the researchers suggest, the result of human manipulations at the time of the woman’s death. Perhaps this is a reflection of the rituals to remove the meat from the skull.

The skull also had other injuries believed to have been made before death. They could have been caused by some wound that killed the woman. In addition to other markings that may be evidence of some type of medical treatment done by your people.


Because the skull was so separated from the rest of the skeleton, the researchers suggested that it might have been intentionally or accidentally removed from the rest of the body before rolling over or being pushed by the streams of water to reach where it was found.

Over time, water seepage may have dissolved the gypsum deposits inside the cave. This caused a vertical pit to be created on the side where the skull was.

“The reactivated cave passage began to evolve downward, with the formation of a side stream that sank and carved out the labyrinth below. This new reactivation was able to entrench approximately 12 meters of plaster, connecting to the lower base level,” the researchers wrote.

This hypothesis is reinforced by several sediments that were lodged inside the cranial cavity. This suggests that matter was trapped in the skull during the flow of water or debris as the skull moved through the cave.

“The skull would have rolled more easily than other parts of the skeleton in a flow of water and debris runoff… During its decomposition and these dynamic phases, it would have been filled with sediment. Therefore, it would have reached the cave and stopped on the plateau where it was found”, suggested the researchers.

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