Skeletons discovered in long-forgotten graveyards provide proof of not only gruesome deaths but the poor quality of life they led.
Skeletons found at Driffield Terrace (UK) dating back to when the area was part of the northern Roman Empire, belonged to tall men, aged in their mid-40s. Each had been decapitated and the heads placed between their legs or on their body. There was evidence of trauma on the bones, which indicate they were either gladiators or soldiers. One of the skeletons bore a large carnivore bite mark, probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear. Seven of the remains were processed for genetic profiles, six were from Britain and one from Syria or Lebanon.
Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac died in 1656, and was buried at the Convent of the Jacobins in northwestern France. Her husband Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac preceded her in death, seven years before. Before being buried his heart was removed, embalmed and placed in a heart-shaped urn. This was kept safe until the Lady of Brefeillac died, and it was placed inside her tomb with her.
Like the story made film of The Hunger Games, the Inca people offered their children as tribute in a practice called capacocha. The most substantial requirement to be chosen was to be a virgin. Parents of the children were forbidden to show grief during the event of when their child was chosen. The victims would be sent to the city of Cuzco where they were well cared for in preparation to become sacrificial offerings. They would then be drugged before being walled alive to die of exposure. Some mummies have been found with trauma to the skull and there is debate if they were not knocked out to lessen their suffering. In 1985, mountain climbers in Argentina found the mummified remains of a 7-year-old boy, sacrificed in this ritual about 500 years ago. He had been left to die of cold at 17,500 feet. He was found covered in vomit, red pigment, and fecal remains.
In 2015, a winter storm in Collooney, Ireland blew over a beech tree. Workers found a mass of bones entangled in the exposed roots. The skeleton belonged to a boy who died between 1030 and 1200, and his ribs and hands showed signs of knife marks, indicating he died a violent death. Records dating back to the 19th-century indicate a church and graveyard were somewhere in the vicinity, but since no other remains have been found, it's not known if perhaps he was murdered and his corpse secreted away.
In a cave in the Atapuerca Mountains in northern Spain, the bones of 28 persons of various Homo species was found. This 430,000 year old graveyard received remains placed there purposely. One of the skulls had a wound on it that couldn't be explained by a fall, or post-mortem trauma. This indicates the person was murdered either with an ax or a spear.
It was the mid-19th century and explorers all hoped to make history. Such was the case when Sir John Franklin organized an arctic expedition in 1845. The aim was to navigate the Northwest Passage. They sailed with 3 years worth of food and 134 men on board. The HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus were trapped in ice off King William Island, which failed to melt during two succeeding summers.
In 1859, a letter dated 1848 was found under a cairn in Canada's Victoria Point. It was written by Francis Crozier who took command of the Terror after Admiral Franklin died. He noted that 24 men perished, and the rest of the crew were heading out in hopes of reaching a trading post hundreds of miles away. They all died along the way.
The British Navy sent out search parties, but not until 1850 did they stumble on an unexpected clue of what happened to the expedition. On uninhabited Beechey Island, three unmarked graves dating to 1846 were found.
In 1854, a Scottish explorer came across Inuits in Pelly Bay who had some of the belongings of the Franklin crew. They told of piles of human bones scattered in the area, some of them cracked in half which indicated the men had fed on each other before they froze to death.
During the 1980s and 1990s, further research was conducted on remains found on King William Island which showed knife marks. Not only did they eat their fellow crew members, they didn't wait for them to die, but killed them, driven by the throes of hunger.
In 1984, one of the bodies buried on Beechey Island was exhumed from under five feet of permafrost. He was found to be in pristine condition. John Torrington, 20, died on January 1, 1846. He was neither killed nor cannibalized, he weighed only 88 pounds indicating he was malnourished. He had deadly levels of lead inside his body. Possibly the crew's canned food was poorly packaged and became poisonous. The three corpses found on Beechey Island remain buried there to this day.
The Erebus was discovered in 2014 in 36 feet of water off King William Island, and the HMS Terror was found two years later in Terror Bay, 45 miles away from the Erebus.
Why the ships separated is unknown. Another mystery is why the Terror sunk since there was no breach in the hull and it wasn't crushed by ice. It appeared to "have sunk swiftly and suddenly and settled gently to thee bottom. What happened?"
A 4,000 year old skeleton found in Rajasthan, India has been identified as the first case of leprosy. There was stigma against this disease even then since he was buried instead of cremated as called for by Hindu tradition. The skeleton was found in a stone enclosure filled with burned cow dung, a substance thought to be purifying. This would only be done to those deemed unfit to be burned. The disease spread from Asia to Europe with Alexander the Great's army after 400 B.C. Leprosy originated in Africa during the Late Pleistocene and the bacteria M. leprae spread out of Africa sometime after 40,000 years ago.
In 2008, evidence of human sacrifice was found in an ancient building in Nagar, a city that belonged to Mesopotamia’s Akkadian Empire, presently known as Syria. Three human skeletons, all headless lay side-by-side next to several mules and an array of valuable metal objects. The human remains showed unusual injuries and overdeveloped areas for ligaments and bones, indicating they were possibly acrobats. These entertainers apparently ranked high enough in this ancient city's social sphere to serve as sacrificial offerings. The building was formerly used for breeding and trading mules used to pull war wagons and the kings' chariots. Once the bodies were left there, it was filled with dirt and abandoned. It's believed the sacrifice was made due to a natural disaster that occurred at that time.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer