The impaled burial of Molzbichl
Cold Case Carantana
During excavations, a burial unique in Central Europe was discovered in Molzbichl. The deceased person was staked after his death.
During archaeological investigations in the early medieval cemetery of Molzbichl, more than 40 graves have been uncovered so far. The discovery of the spectacular burial is due to the extremely careful excavation method.
The skeleton was found at a depth of about 1.30 m and came to light under a thick river stone packing. The thin wire headdress rings lying on the skull and a C14 analysis date it to the 10th century.
A few years ago, the human genome was successfully decoded. We owe this groundbreaking discovery spectacular details about single individuals.
The Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz specializes in sequencing ancient DNA. A sample was taken from the petrous bone of the impaled burial and the genome was sequenced in extremely high quality. With 13-fold coverage – each site in the genome was read 13 times – it is qualitatively the best medieval genome available.
What genes reveal
Who was the impaled person from Molzbichl? What did she look like, how did she live? Answers are provided by anthropology and genetics.
The impaled individual was clearly determined to be female. The woman possessed a Central European appearance with similarities to contemporary German, Czech, and Polish women.
The “Molzbichlerin” had light brown, thick hair and blue eyes. Her skin type was slightly darker than that of today’s English women, but lighter than that of women in Sardinia. It can be compared most closely with present-day Central European women.
Remarkable are indications of an Asian component. The detected gene variant is associated with shovel-shaped incisors, reduced body odor, and dry earwax.
The woman was able to digest moderate amounts of dairy products and metabolize normal amounts of alcohol without facial flushing.
Because of its high quality, the Molzbichler genome has become a reference genome that will be further analyzed and exciting results are expected. The goal is to clarify the long-term genetic origin of the woman and to work out differences from other medieval individuals.
Read the entire analysis on the touchscreen.
A skeleton and its history
The expert for special burials, Dr. Bettina Jungklaus, has comprehensively examined the Molzbichler skeleton and gained remarkable insights.
The age at death could be determined various characteristics to 46 to 60 years (matur).
The sex determination remained uncertain for the time being, there were both male and female features on the skeleton. In total the individual was estimated as male, only the DNA examination brought the clear proof of a woman.
The body height could be determined with approx. 160 cm.
At the skeleton a “stool facet” could be proved. This thickening of the tibia occurs with frequent squatting and can cause severe pain depending on the degree of severity.The woman suffered from massive tartar, periodontal disease, caries and fistulas in the upper jaw. She also had a gap between her upper incisors (trema).Mild osteoarthritis in both shoulder, hip and knee joints was painful. Wear and tear was found on the left shoulder joint, and a healed finger fracture was also noted.
What else we know
The impaled “Molzbichlerin” was relatively tall. Like the rest of the population she lived in poor conditions, but she never worked hard.
In contrast to the other adults (average height 154 cm), the woman stands out because of her stately height of 160 cm. Often, a low body height indicates an undersupply of animal protein during the growth phase. The high caries burden also suggests a predominantly carbohydrate diet (e.g., cereal porridge).
Absence of muscle attachments to the long bones indicates that the woman did little heavy labor. Body anomalies that might have been a reason for postmortem impalement were not noted. Based on historical sources, it was considered that she would have been staked as a deceased woman in childbirth. However, her advanced age (46-60 years) argues against pregnancy.
A 14C analysis conducted in Erlangen, Germany, showed that the woman died with 95.4% probability between 939-1031 AD. An even narrower narrowing down to 968-1022 AD has a probability of 67.7%. The two headdress rings found on the skull confirm the dating and also point to the 10th century.
Read the entire analysis on the touchscreen.