Anatolia and SE Europe

Evidence of violence in Neolithic Anatolia: the arrowhead man from Aktopraklık

A male skeleton, 25-35 years of age from the Neolithic cemetery of Aktopraklik, Western Turkey which is excavated by Dr. Necmi Karul (Dept. of Prehistory, University of Istanbul). The anthropological analysis carried out by ERC collaborator, Dr Songul Alpaslan-Roodenberg revealed a unique glimpse into the nature of everyday life during the early stages of agriculture which suggests that farming during the early stages of the Neolithic Revolution, more than 8000 years ago, was not as peaceful as has been previously assumed .

Most of the bones were present and in a good condition except the skull which was crushed. athletic build and showed that he was used to hard labour. Moreover, judging from his skeletal remains he was in good health when his life came to an untimely end by the shot of an arrow. The flint arrowhead was found deeply burrowed in the anterior face of the third lumbar vertebra – a little to the left of the midline.


Fig. 1.  The flint arrowhead found burrowed in the third lumbar vertebra.

When reconstructing the trajectory of the arrow (the angle of impact is ca. 60 degrees) and taking in account the 12 mm deep slit the projectile had carved in the bone, it was concluded that the victim could only have been targeted from an elevated position nearby. This means either that the shot was released from a roof or a tree towards the standing victim or that the victim lay on the ground when the arrow struck him from behind. The victim was probably knocked down in a fight and then – purposely – shot from short distance. The second lumbar vertebra showed no traces of damage, which means that only the third vertebra was injured.From the arrow’s impact – to the left of the vertebra’s midline – it can almost certainly be concluded that his death occurred instantly. He was buried SE-NW facing North lying on his right side (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2.  The victim had received a regular funeral.

The killing presumably had taken place not far from the village, because his contracted body suggests that he was buried within several hours after his death. This means that he still could be deposited in the customary position with flexed arms and legs before rigor mortis was completed. However, somewhat unusual features such as the right arm bent to the head and the feet apparently bound together may indicate that rigor mortis had set in before the corpse was buried. Whatever the community’s attitude was towards this individual, judging from the grave goods including a bone spatula and other worked bone tools, it is clear that he had received a regular funeral.

Excerpt from M. Songül Alpaslan Roodenberg, 2011. A preliminary study of the burials from Late Neolithic – Early Chalcolithic Aktopraklık. Anatolica 37, 17-43.