Archaeologists Baffled By Ancient Bones of Child With a Skull in its Mouth

We’ve heard of bizarre burial practices in 5th century Italy where the dead were laid to rest with rocks in their mouths so that if they rose from the grave like vampires they couldn’t bite the living, but that was a long time ago when everything was weird. A recent discovery of a child’s bones found in a Polish cave is a little harder to swallow, partly because the bones were thousands of years younger than others found in the same cave, but also because the rock in its mouth was actually the skull of a bird.

According to reports, the bones were found buried alone in Tunel Wielki Cave in the Polish Jurassic Highlands (south-central Poland) decades ago but had not been analyzed. While going through boxes of old research and materials collected by another team, Dr. Małgorzata Kot from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw came across the bizarre remains. “When we opened another dusty box from an old research project, we found small childs bones,” Kot said in a statement. “Their discoverer, Prof. Waldemar Chmielewski, never published the details of this find, he only included a photograph of it in a book published in the 1980s.” By carbon-dating samples, he and his team were able to determine that the child, around 10 years old at the time of death, was either buried in the second half of the 18th century or at the turn of the 19th. Other bones found in the cave were around 4500 years old, but the age of the remains was clearly not the headline. For some unknown reason, the skull of a chaffinch was in the mouth of the child’s skull and there was another bird skull near its cheek.

“This burial is a big surprise for us,” said Kot. “This practice is not known among the ethnologists we have asked for opinions. It remains a mystery why the child was buried in a cave in this way, not in a cemetery in a nearby village.” Kot says that while the records of the find were included in the mystery box, the skull itself was not. “It went to anthropologists in Wrocław right after the excavations were completed 50 years ago. Today, the place of its storage is unknown.” The discovery of other bones in the cave suggest that it was long used as a burial ground, but that doesn’t explain the child or the birds. Kot and his team plan to do DNA tests on the remaining bones, but with the skull lost, they may never have all of the answers they seek.