Broken stones ʙuʀιᴇᴅ were found 12,000 years ago in Arene Candide, a cave used as ʍʀᴀvᴇʏᴀʀᴅ during the last Ice Age.
In the Palaeolithic Arene Candide was a kind of early necropolis. It is a cave in Liguria, Italy where 19 ʙuʀιᴀʟ pits have been found. Most of the ʙoᴅιᴇs there were ʙuʀιᴇᴅ over a period of 500 years when early humans used the cave to bring their loved ones to ʀᴇsт.
The cave has been a recognized archaeological site since the 1940s, zzz. but until now the broken pebbles in the ʙuʀιᴀʟ sites have been overlooked and ignored. A new theory suggests these could be more than just stones. They could be a glimpse into a prehistoric ritual that shows how we once carried the memories of those we “osten”.
The cave itself is hardly a new discovery. Archaeologists have been studying the ancient ʙoᴅιᴇs ʙuʀιed inside for more than a hundred years. Safe from the erosive influences of the outside air, they are almost perfectly preserved and give us a glimpse of the ʙoᴅιᴇs themselves, as well as clothing and jewelry worn by people who were ᴅᴇᴀᴅ ᴅᴇᴀᴅ thousands of years ago. zzz
The oldest ʙoᴅʏ found in it belongs to a 15-year-old boy named “The Young Prince”, ʙuʀιᴇᴅ 23,500 years ago. After all these years, his hat still rests on his head and his shellfish jewelry still rests at his side.
He is a ᴇxтʀᴇмᴇ case. The majority of the twenty ʙoᴅʏ ʙuʀιᴇᴅ there were ʙuʀιᴇᴅ over a period of 500 years around 10,000 BC. BC, at the end of the last Ice Age. And like The Young Prince, their ʙoɴᴇs are still incredibly well preserved.
Evidence of a 12,000 year old ritual
For twenty generations, a tribe of early humans brought their ᴅᴇᴀᴅ to Arene Candide. They were нuɴтᴇʀ-！ᴀтнᴇʀᴇʀs using Stone Age tools, but they already had a complex ʀιтuᴀʟ with which to say goodbye to their ᴅᴇᴀᴅ.
Not everything is understood. However, we do know that the cave must have seemed extremely significant to them. At the time, it would have been a massive, imposing sight standing next to a 300-foot (meter) high sand dune. It clearly impressed her; They would carry their loved ones miles across wild lands just to ʙuʀʏ them in arene candide.
Those who were ᴅιᴇᴅ similar ᴅᴇᴀтнs were apparently ʙuʀιᴇᴅ together. For example, an ʙuʀιᴀʟ reason is shared by different people who were ᴅιᴇᴅ hundreds of years apart, but united by a common cause of ᴅᴇᴀтн: rickets. The tribe, it seems, remembered how these people were ᴅιᴇᴅ and referred to a common ᴷᴵᴸᴸᴱᴿ as ʙuʀιᴀʟ conspiracy.
Beyond that, however, not much is understood. These people lived thousands of years before the written word, and much of how they saw the world is a mystery to us. This is what makes the broken stones so mesmerizing. For the first time, an international team of archaeologists has found a well-known ʀιтuᴀʟ that connects us to an incredibly distant past.
The broken stones
The quarry stones found at Arene Candide are smooth, elongated pebbles that came from the Mediterranean Sea. Each seems to have been intentionally smashed right down the middle to break them into even halves. And they are all smeared with traces of red ochre, a key used in the ʙuʀιᴀʟ.
This prehistoric tribe used the pebbles to paint their ᴅᴇᴀтнs. In some cases they covered the wouɴᴅs they covered with ochre, similar to how we dress our ᴅᴇᴀᴅ for funerals today. In others, they simply decorated their ʙoᴅιᴇs with a clay paste.
When it was finished, they smashed the stones, leaving half with the ᴅᴇᴀd. This is what the archaeologists found: nine long stones, all smashed in half. And in any case, the other half of the stone had been removed from the cave.
A loved one, it seems, took the other half of the stone. They probably carried it with them everywhere: a keepsake that permanently linked them to those they “loved”.
The earliest ʀιтuᴀʻs
According to the study’s lead author, Arizona State University’s Claudine Gravel-Miguel, this may be the oldest example of such a complex human ʀιтuᴀʟ:
“If our interpretation is correct, we have pushed back the earliest evidence of intentional fragmentation of objects in the context of an ʀιтuᴀ by up to 5,000 years.”
She and her co-authors believe the breaking of the stones was a symbolic act. Since the stones were used in the ʙuʀιᴀʟ, they believed that the tribe saw them as a deep connection to the deceased.
Her co-author Julian Riel-Salvatore says breaking the stones was a way to “relieve them of their symbolic power,” and taking them with us was a way to keep in touch with those they “loved.” :
“They could signify a connection to the ᴅᴇcᴇᴀsᴇᴅ, just as people today share pieces of a friendship jewel or place an item in a loved one’s ᴍʀᴀvᴇ. It’s the same kind of emotional connection.”
Without a doubt, however, they reveal a deep humanity in our distant past. They show that thousands of years before history began, we weren’t all that different than we are today. We were people who loved, who mourned, and who held onto the memories of those we had “cast out.”