F Rosa Rubicondior: Old Dead Gods - With Long Forgotten Religions - And No Way To Recover Them

Monday 19 February 2024

Old Dead Gods - With Long Forgotten Religions - And No Way To Recover Them

Joint interment of a dog and a human perinate.

Photo by S.R.Thompson, courtesy of SABAP-VR Soprintendenza archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio per le province di Verona, Rovigo e Vicenza.

Laffranchi Z, Zingale S, Tecchiati U, Amato A, Coia V, Paladin A, et al. (2024)
Some Pre-Roman humans were buried with dogs, horses and other animals | ScienceDaily

I've made the point several time before, but another paper published recently, reinforces it again, that when old gods are forgotten and old religions die, there is nothing on which they can be reconstructed because religions are never founded in verifiable evidence.

Unlike religion, science, which is a description of reality, could be rediscovered if it, or a major branch of it, was somehow wiped from our collective memories and all text books on the subject were wiped clean. And the rediscovered science would be the same as it is today. Atoms would have the same structure and properties, chemistry would do what we know it does today; physics would have the same explanations for the different colours of light, for the way energy is conserved; entropy and the laws of thermodynamics would be the same; and the description of the universe, together with the Big Bang, how suns form and how planets form around them, would be the same.

In fact, we can be as sure as eggs is eggs, that if ever we contact intelligent life from another planet, their science will be the same as ours, although they'll use different words to describe it and their numbering system may well have a different base.

But, expunge every trace of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hindi, Shintoism, etc., and erase everyone’s memory of them, and we would never again know what the followers believed or what they believe their god(s) did or didn't do. We would know no more about the major religions of today than we know about the ancient religions before writing was invented. We have not the slightest idea what inspired the builders of Stonehenge and Silbury Hill in Wiltshire; we don't have a clue what the people who built the oldest existing roofed building in Europe, in Menorca in the Balearic Islands believed or what the Minoans of Crete believed, or even the names of their gods, and, unless someone decodes the language the Minoans wrote, we never will. We only know anything about the Egyptian and Sumerian pantheons because someone learned to read their writing.

And we know nothing about the gods and religion of the people who buried horses and dogs with their dead in Late Iron Age, Northern Italy - the subject of a recent paper in PLOS ONE.

In information from PLoS, cited in Science Daily, the authors explain their findings:
Some people from an ancient community in what is now northern Italy were interred with animals and animal parts from species such as dogs, horses and pigs. The reasons remain mysterious, but might indicate an enduring companion relationship between these humans and animals, or religious sacrificial practices, according to a study published February 14, 2023 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Zita Laffranchi from the University of Bern, Stefania Zingale from the Institute for Mummy Studies, Eurac Research Bozen, Umberto Tecchiati from the University of Milan, and colleagues.

Of the 161 people buried at Seminario Vescovile, an archaeological site in Verona from 3rd to 1st century BCE, 16 were buried with some kind of animal remains.

Some of the graves contained the remains of animals often eaten by people -- including many pigs, a chicken and part of a cow -- which may have represented food offerings to the dead.

But four of the people buried on the site were buried alongside the remains of dogs and/or horses, which are not commonly eaten.

To look for patterns that might explain these animal burials, the researchers analyzed the demographics, diets, genetics and burial conditions of the interred humans and animals, but this did not lead to any notable correlations.

In particular, the people interred with animals do not seem to be closely related to each other, which would have suggested that this was a practice of a certain family.

The people buried with dogs or horses also varied -- they include a baby buried with a complete dog skeleton, a young man buried with parts of a horse, a middle-aged man buried with a small dog and a middle-aged woman buried with an entire horse, multiple other horse parts and a dog skull.

The lack of patterns among these graves mean that multiple interpretations of these human-animal co-burials remain possible, the authors say.

For example, animals like dogs and horses often had religious symbolism in ancient cultures -- but at the same time, specific individuals may also have been buried with their animal companions.

In addition, the authors note, these human-animal burial practices might have been determined by the interplay between different individual traits and societal customs.

The authors add:

This study, which is part of the CELTUDALPS research project (co-financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Province of South Tyrol, and coordinated by Marco Milella of the University of Bern and Albert Zink of the Institute for Mummy Studies, Eurac Research), explores burials of horses and dogs with humans, and may hint at unknown rituals and beliefs during the late centuries BCE in Italy.

No clear pattern that would explain this practice other than some sort of unknown religious ritual.

The authors give technical details in the open access paper in PLOS ONE:

Animal remains are a common find in prehistoric and protohistoric funerary contexts. While taphonomic and osteological data provide insights about the proximate (depositional) factors responsible for these findings, the ultimate cultural causes leading to this observed mortuary behavior are obscured by the opacity of the archaeological record and the lack of written sources. Here, we apply an interdisciplinary suite of analytical approaches (zooarchaeological, anthropological, archaeological, paleogenetic, and isotopic) to explore the funerary deposition of animal remains and the nature of joint human-animal burials at Seminario Vescovile (Verona, Northern Italy 3rd-1st c. BCE). This context, culturally attributed to the Cenomane culture, features 161 inhumations, of which only 16 included animal remains in the form of full skeletons, isolated skeletal parts, or food offerings. Of these, four are of particular interest as they contain either horses (Equus caballus) or dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)–animals that did not play a dietary role. Analyses show no demographic, dietary, funerary similarities, or genetic relatedness between individuals buried with animals. Isotopic data from two analyzed dogs suggest differing management strategies for these animals, possibly linked to economic and/or ritual factors. Overall, our results point to the unsuitability of simple, straightforward explanations for the observed funerary variability. At the same time, they connect the evidence from Seminario Vescovile with documented Transalpine cultural traditions possibly influenced by local and Roman customs.


The deposition of whole animals or animal parts is an important component of funerary rituals among different human societies and frequently attested archaeologically by faunal remains found in burial contexts (e.g., [13] among others). The deposition of animal parts from taxa normally exploited for alimentary purposes, such as suidae, caprinae, and bovinae for Eurasian contexts, may point to their ritual offering as food to the deceased, a custom widely distributed geographically and chronologically [4]. However, the same interpretation is less satisfying in other instances, like the presence in burials of taxa usually absent from the menu of a given population, depositions of whole animals, or of animals unaccompanied by human interments. In all of these cases, the discussion of the archaeological evidence needs to take into account additional elements, including: (a) the symbolism associated with specific species in a given culture, (b) the possible selection of some animals as sacrifices, and (c) their social role and link with the deceased with whom they are buried. A typical find outside the notion of funerary food offering is the presence in burials of horses and dogs. Starting from its spread around 2200–2000 BCE from the Volga-Don region [5], the domestic horse (Equus caballus) quickly became economically and militarily central across Eurasian societies. One can link the appearance of horses in funerary and ritual contexts to their fast-growing importance and their role as a status symbol starting from the Eurasian Bronze Age (e.g., [611]).

Turning to dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), their appearance in human burials is archaeologically documented from at least the late Paleolithic, the earliest evidence of this custom being that of Born-Oberkassel (Germany, 12290–12050 cal. BC) [12, 13]; also see [14]). The appearance of dogs in funerary contexts, associated with human graves or not, presents a remarkable geographic distribution, with finds identified in Eurasia and the Americas and a chronological extension spanning from the Paleolithic to contemporary times [1417].

Throughout the years, the interest in the cultural significance of horse and dog depositions has led to a number of contextual analyses and review papers (e.g., [6, 18, 19]). One survey by Prummel [19] on early medieval dog and horse burials in continental Europe and Anglo-Saxon England stands out due to its extensive documentation and analytical depth. Cross [18] also discusses the multiple meanings of horse burials in Britain during the first millennium CE, linking their presence in funerary spaces to the high status of the deceased, sacrificial rites, and, in some cases, feasting including the consumption of horse flesh. A similar association between the deceased’s social status and the presence of horse remains has also been suggested for burials in Lithuania dated between the 2nd-7th centuries AD [6].

The works of Munt and Meiklejohn [17], Perri [20], and Morey and Jeger [14] provide methodological and interpretive reflections on the symbolic importance of dogs, dog burials, and joint dog-human interments. They clearly demonstrate the challenges in interpreting this evidence due to the cultural contingency and multiple facets (e.g., symbolic, religious, economic, and affective) of animal-human relationships.

Due to the lack of direct information, the opacity of the archaeological record is especially problematic for prehistoric contexts. Among these, the "Celtic" cultures distributed in Continental Europe and Britain during the Late Iron Age (⁓5th-1st c. BCE) offer various archaeological examples of such complex animal-human relationships.

For the La Tène and early Romanization periods (ca. 4th-1st c. BCE), the funerary and more general ritual role of animals has been discussed in different studies on enigmatic "Celtic" sites, mostly from France (e.g., Acy-Romance and Ribemont [21, 22]) and Switzerland (e.g., La Tène and Le Mormont [23, 24]). Conversely, little is known about the La Tène cultural groups of the Italian peninsula, with only a few examples of horses in burials [11], and there is little information on the economic relevance of the represented animal taxa (e.g., [25]).

Vitali [11] provides a review of these known horse depositions in the Italian peninsula during the Iron Age, which includes spectacular cases from Early Iron Age (Veneti) contexts (e.g., cf. [2628], also see tomb 61 from Colombara di Gazzo Veronese [29]) as well as later evidence attributable to the Senones, another "Celtic" Transalpine group of Central Italy. Among the Veneti sites, the most famous case emerged from the necropolis of Piovego (6th-4th c. BCE), where Burial 12 contained a young adult male and a horse. Both the human and the horse were oriented east-west and facing east, with the horse laying with its legs crossed under its chest and the neck bent while the man was laid on top in a supine position, possibly on a wooden litter [28, 30]. The sacrificing of horses and their burial, either in isolation or along with a deceased human, has also been discovered at other Venetic sites and interpreted as a ritual performed upon the death of high status individuals. Such examples include the isolated horse burials of Le Brustolade Altino (Venezia, Italy) [27, 31], Oderzo (Treviso) [32, 33], Este (Padova), Oppeano Veronese (Verona) [11] and the human-horse co-burials of via Tiepolo/S.Massimo (Padova) [34] and Este (Padova) [35]. An example from the Senones is the necropolis of Montefortino d’Arcevia (Ancona, Central Italy) where the presence of horse depositions is related to sacrificial practices [36]. Interestingly, this interpretation is indirectly supported by Caesar, who, in the De Bello Gallico, describes the Gallic custom of sacrificing the deceased’s animals alongside him or her on the funerary pyre (Caesar, De Bello Gallico, VI, 2, 19).

Compared with the Senones, the funerary appearance of horses among the Cenomani has so far been extremely limited, with only a single case from Carzaghetto di Canneto sull’Oglio (Mantova) [37]. However, this situation recently changed thanks to the discovery of human-horse and human-dog co-burials at the Late Iron Age (Cenomane) site of Seminario Vescovile (Verona, Northern Italy, 3rd-1st c. BCE, henceforth "SV"). These new findings, presented and discussed in this work, are important for different reasons. First, they expand our still fragmentary knowledge about the funerary and cultural variability of this group. Second, the availability of detailed archaeological documentation together with an extensive anthropological and isotopic dataset [3843] and preliminary human ancient DNA (aDNA) data [44] provide the basis for a solid contextualization of the funerary zooarchaeological evidence.

Archaeological context

The archaeological excavations in the courtyards of the Bishop’s Seminary of Verona took place between 2005 and 2009 in an area of over 2000 m2 on the eastern outskirts of the Roman town between a consular road (the Via Postumia) and a minor branch of the river Adige (Fig 1A and 1B) [4548].
Fig 1.
(a) geographical location of SV and overall view of the necropolis; (b) close-up showing the animal-human co-burials (red stars) and burials with food offerings (green shades) (map of Italy modified from https://www.fla-shop.com/svg/italy/ under a CC BY license. Plan by S.R. Thompson and M. Bersani, courtesy of SABAP-VR Soprintendenza archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio per le province di Verona, Rovigo e Vicenza).
Between the 1st and 3rd century CE, the investigated area was an important center for metallurgical production and occupied by a series of buildings to the west of a Roman road. The site was also close to a sanctuary; numerous favissae (places of offerings) and votive deposits were uncovered during the excavation [49]. Beneath these structures was a necropolis of the local pre-Roman population (Cenomani), whose settlement was on the slopes of the hill of St. Peter on the left bank of the river Adige [38, 47]. The burial site included over 160 inhumations with grave goods dating to the late La Tène period [46, 48], and preliminary radiocarbon dating pointing to the 3rd -1st century BCE also confirmed this chronology [38, 39, 42]. In general, burials were simple pits, occasionally equipped with "funerary structures" composed of stones outlining the edge of the pit and/or covering the burial (cf. [39] for further details). Although none of the graves contained weapons, the funerary items were quite variable (e.g., pottery, pins, coins, rings, and a few knives), with some plates and small globular vessels exhibiting inscriptions in the Lepontic alphabet [50, 51]. Individuals at SV were mostly oriented north-south in a supine and extended position—rarely was the skeleton prone or on its side—and only 16 of these burials included faunal remains, either as fully articulated skeletons or as isolated parts.

A series of bioarchaeological studies has offered new insights about the lifestyle, social differentiation, and dietary patterns at SV [39, 42, 43]. The results of these works highlight differences between sexes in the performance of daily activities and overall exposure to biomechanical load [40] as well as a weak social differentiation and a homogenous exposure to developmental stressors during growth [39]. Stable isotope data of carbon and nitrogen pointed to an extended breastfeeding period [43], an almost exclusive consumption of C4 plants (possibly broomcorn and foxtail millet), and a higher proportion of animal proteins in the diets of males [42]. More recently, a preliminary study carried out on a subset of individuals has provided the first estimates of residential mobility at the site. Based on oxygen and carbon isotopic ratios, this work pointed to a low frequency of nonlocal individuals and to the Alpine area as a potential source of newcomers [42]. Compared with this extensive body of research on the human remains, no data have been available so far on the zooarchaeological finds associated with the SV burials.

Research questions and methodological approach

From a funerary perspective, the preliminary evidence from SV raises the question of why, among such a large number of identified burials, only 16 (9.9%) revealed animal remains. Meniel [25] suggested a link between funerary heterogeneity and social differentiation in Gaul (modern-day France). We may therefore wonder if it is possible to detect any additional patterns (e.g. regarding diet, age at death, sex distribution, and genetic relatedness) linking the individuals buried with animals at SV. To address this question, we apply a multidisciplinary approach including zooarchaeology, paleogenomics, and geochemistry (stable isotopes and radiocarbon dating). Specifically:

Through estimations of sex, age at death, and other biometric and taphonomic characteristics, the zooarchaeological analyses aim to explore the taxonomic and demographic variability of the represented animals in order to provide insights about the dynamics leading to their deposition and their likely symbolic meaning (e.g., joint human-animal burials, food offering, etc.).

Paleogenomic analyses investigate possible genetic relatedness (kinship) among the individuals buried with animals. The re-analysis of published human and animal stable isotope data from SV [39, 42] explores dietary (and possibly socioeconomic) differences between the individuals provided with animals vs. the rest of the buried population.
Fig 2.
Plan (a) and picture (b) of B46, the burial of an adult woman (US 2731) associated with US 2515a (prone and articulated horse), US 2627 (horse forelimb), and US 2780 (dog cranium). The burial also contained the skeletal remains of three additional horses (not shown); (c) the cranium of US 2515a during excavation. (Photos by S.R.Thompson, courtesy of SABAP-VR Soprintendenza archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio per le province di Verona, Rovigo e Vicenza).

Fig 3.
Dog cranium from B46 (a), and B19, joint interment of a dog and a human perinate (b). (Photos by S.R.Thompson, courtesy of SABAP-VR Soprintendenza archeologia, belle arti e paesaggio per le province di Verona, Rovigo e Vicenza).

Fig 4. B19, US 2757: Healed fracture on the left humerus of the dog.
(Photo by U. Tecchiati).

The point that comes across most strongly from this paper, is the, although the burials have some of the hall-marks of ritual burials, the reasons for the inclusion of dogs and/or horses, and the inclusion of possible food animals in the graves can only be guessed at, as can the form of any assumed afterlife they may have anticipated.

The gods these people may have worshiped and assigned as the cause of things they didn't understand, just as religious people today do with respect to the currently popular gods, have gone forever and disappeared without trace, just as they appeared from nowhere. Unlike matter, gods can be constructed from nothing and revert to nothing when their last follower dies.

Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It

This book explains why faith is a fallacy and serves no useful purpose other than providing an excuse for pretending to know things that are unknown. It also explains how losing faith liberates former sufferers from fear, delusion and the control of others, freeing them to see the world in a different light, to recognise the injustices that religions cause and to accept people for who they are, not which group they happened to be born in. A society based on atheist, Humanist principles would be a less divided, more inclusive, more peaceful society and one more appreciative of the one opportunity that life gives us to enjoy and wonder at the world we live in.

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