4,000-year-old Skeleton in Crouching Position Leaves Archaeologists Puzzled

The skeleton of a woman, thought to be between 4,000 to 4,500 years old, has been unearthed during excavations in Uckermark in Brandenburg, Germany—and it has left archaeologists puzzled.

The remains were found in a crouching position. The woman had been laid on her right side with her legs and arms pulled in towards the chest and her gaze facing north, Deutsche Welle (DW) reports. The crouching shape is one of the oldest forms of positioning the body and is typical of burials in Neolithic Europe, a period that lasted from 6,000 to 2,000 BCE and saw societies transition to farming.

The archaeologists' "working hypothesis" is that the remains date to about 2,500 BCE, Christof Krauskopf from the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments told the Evangelical Press Service. However, the exact date is unclear and further research is needed to determine both the age of the skeleton and how old the woman was when she died.

Krauskopf said the discovery could help "answer questions about the spread of cultures in the development of mankind," national broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) 24 reports.

Example of crouching burial
A skeleton found in a crouching position has left archaeologists puzzled. Picture: Example of a crouching burial, show the remains of a 25-30 year old woman from St. Germain-le-Ridiere in France. CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty

To add to the mystery of the burial, no grave goods that might offer some immediate clues to her status or cause of death were found.

"Unfortunately there were no other finds in the grave that could tell us more about the life of the woman," Philipp Roskoschinski, one of the archaeologists involved in the dig, told Tagesspeigel. "But the place was lovingly bordered with field stones."

Roskoschinski and other archaeologists involved in the dig have said that the body was buried in a pit near a settlement rather than in a cemetery.

The next steps will involve laboratory tests to clarify and, if needed, correct the age of the skeleton, Tagesspeigel reports. The newspapers said an anthropologist will also be brought in to check the bones for signs of disease and any clues relating to the woman's eating habits and cause of death.

Genetic testing could also be used to determine her connection to what is now Uckermark, a district an hour's drive north of Berlin, archaeologists have said. The results may help researchers work out if she had ancestors in the area, or if she had travelled from outside.

Roskoschinski and Christoph Rzegotta, a fellow archaeologist at Archaeros, an archaeology consulting company, came across the skeleton during excavations for a wind turbine.

"I've never found anything like this," Roskoschinski told Tagesspeigel.