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40% of medieval graves were disturbed, and not by robbers

New research has revealed that as much as 40% of medieval graves in Europe have been disturbed, and not always by grave robbers.

“I think the grave goods didn’t have only material value, I think they had a strong symbolic value that it was part of the identity of the people,” she said, speculating that when the Langobards moved out of the area in the mid-sixth century, they may have retrieved certain items for keepsakes of those deceased individuals.

The ways in which the bodies were manipulated are also telling. In particular, strange things were done with the skulls, which was the most frequently missing part of the body. A high proportion — more than a third — of graves re-opened after the corpse had decomposed to clean bone were missing the skull. And two graves, where bodies were most likely not fully decomposed when they were reopened, contained two skulls each. The extra skulls appeared to have been deposited when the grave was reopened.

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Story: Wynne Parry, LiveScience | Photo: Peter Stadler, Department of Prehistory, Museum of Natural History Vienna

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