Neighbourhood disputes?

Around 5200 BCE, three settlements of the earlier Linear Pottery Culture were established in direct proximity to each other, on the fertile loess soils near the Žitava River in the southwest of present-day Slovakia. In the almost 300 years of settlement history, 313 houses were built. The highest population density was around 5110 BCE. Only about 40 years later, the inhabitants built a ditch with palisades around one of the settlements and thus separated themselves from the two others - so far, one can only speculate why they did it. Perhaps the close coexistence led to tensions that increased the need for isolation. The digging of such a ditch was a demanding task at that time, which was carried out by a group of people, and thus expresses a collective spirit.

Spondylus – a widely travelled burial good

Pendants made of spondylus (Spondylus gaederopus), a type of shell from the Mediterranean Sea, were very widely used in the Linear Pottery period. In large parts of southern and south-eastern Europe, such shells were mainly found during excavations in settlements. In Central Europe, it is found in burials of the Linear Pottery Culture. It reached as far as northern Poland, Central Germany and the Paris Basin. Its widespread use shows that during the sixth millennium BCE, people had extensive and complex contacts and exchange systems, and all this without smartphones and the internet.

  • Spondylus pendant from one of the traditional burials in Vráble.

  • Distribution of the spondylus shell in the sixth millennium BCE.

Magic in prehistory?

We will never be able to fully clarify what motivated these people to cut off the heads. However, we can make assumptions based on certain indications. Firstly, the formerly uniform burial rite became more diverse in this period and secondly, this happened alongside regionalisation. This suggests that the sense of belonging to a small group became more important to these people. Such a group identity included common rituals that united the group. These rituals may explain the headless skeletons in Vráble: the removal of the head was part of a special burial rite that followed certain rules. Such rituals and other actions performed in a regulated way are regarded as attempts by humans to intervene in natural processes. We pray or make sacrifices for better times, the averting of diseases and bad harvests. Like a kind of applied magic to influence things that cannot be controlled.

  • Drawing of a ritually deposited obsidian core.

  • Vessels very seldom have applied decorations. The motif shown here has no parallels so far.

  • The three settlements in Vráble.

  • Reconstruction of the burial rite.

  • Reconstruction of the burials in the ditches.

  • Reconstruction of the burials in the ditches.

  • Reconstruction of the burials in the ditches.


  • Common excavation tools range from diggers to paintbrushes. But sometimes the archaeologists also use a vacuum cleaner.

  • For the photo documentation, everything should appear in the same light. The best way to avoid shadows cast by the sun is to use large tarpaulins.

  • The ditch with the burials. In the background, its outer lines can be seen in the section. In front of it are two buried headless individuals.

  • Drawings and allocation of the finds from the longitudinal pits of a house.

  • Drawings and allocation of the finds from the longitudinal pits of a house.

  • Don't step on it! When excavating between the skeletons, balance and a delicate touch are required.