Most villages nowadays have borders marked by flowerbeds and a cheerful sign welcoming you into town. But for the people of Bronze Age Switzerland and Germany, borders to lakeshore villages were sometimes marked with the skulls and bones of children.
According to new research, these were the remains of children who had died violently, with blows from an axe or club, Live Science reports. But archaeologists Francesco Menotti, Benjamin Jennings and Hartmut Gollnisch‑Moos don’t think that human sacrifice was involved, because the blows weren’t uniform or practiced.
Instead, the scientists say, there was likely some kind of conflict or war in the area during which the children were killed. Some time after their deaths, the Bronze Age people moved the bones from their original resting places, and set them near the wooden palisades that surrounded the lakeshore villages.
“Across Europe as a whole there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged," Jennings told Live Science in an email.
The settlements were occupied between 5800 and 4600 years ago, and often suffered from flooding. Because the bones seem to have been put in place during times of flooding (one set of bones was found at the high water mark) researchers think that these particular human remains were intended to ward off floodwaters.