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Müller-Scheessel, Nils; Grupe, Gisela; Muehldorfer, Bernd and Tuetken, Thomas (2020): The dead of the Dietersberg Cave, Germany: new insights into burial practices of the Iron Age from C-14-dates and stable isotope (C, N, O, Sr) analyses of human bones and teeth. In: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Vol. 12, No. 3, 68

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The provenance and depositional setting of the human remains in the Dietersberg Cave, located in the Franconian Alb in Southern Germany, are evaluated based on C-14-dates and stable isotope analyses (C, N, O, Sr). Four basic scenarios are discussed: (1) human sacrifice, (2) 'regular' burial place for a small social unit, (3) special social group (e.g. slaves) and (4) special circumstances of death (e.g. fatal illness). Scenarios 1 and 2 are unlikely as the age distribution includes all ages and both sexes and the C-14-dates of the human remains span most of the Iron Age which would result in an implausible small burial community. Stable isotope analyses also render the deposition of slaves (scenario 3) implausible because a high proportion of the individuals were probably of local origin and their diet was not fundamentally different from that of contemporary populations. The archaeological evidence points to a social bias (i.e. low social standing) as reason for deposition. However, the high numbers of apotropaic objects and of perinatals also suggest that scenario 4 might be plausible for at least some of the individuals. The cave was probably a place of deposition not only for one category of individuals but also for those whose burial in the 'regular' cemetery was not considered appropriate.

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