Oct 13, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Unexplained Face-Down Skeleton Remains A Mystery

In 2013, archaeologists excavated an ancient cemetery near the Bernese Lakeland region of Switzerland. The remains of over three hundred people were discovered, most of which had been interred sometime between the 8th and 17th centuries. While most of the discoveries made were typical ancient cemetery fare, one surprising find has puzzled archaeologists ever since: a single skeleton was buried face-down, away from all of the other graves. Many cultures throughout history have buried individuals face down when it was suspected that they might be witches or possessed by demons, so archaeologists immediately suspected that this mysterious face-down skeleton might have been buried in such a way due to fears of the supernatural. 

Face-down skeletons often imply a belief that the interred was possessed by evil or supernatural forces.

Furthermore, the skeleton was buried with a knife and coin purse at a time and place where bodies were not usually interred with their possessions intact. These facts created a mystery that archaeologists and historians have yet to explain. 

The decomposed coin purse found on the face-down skeleton.

Until now, that is. Researchers with the Archaeological Services of Canton Bern in Switzerland believe they might have found a few clues behind the mystery of the face-down skeleton. Using advanced X-ray scans and imaging software, researchers have found that the heavily decomposed coin purse found on the skeleton contains at least twenty-four coins, the latest of which was stamped in 1629.

An X-ray image of the coins inside the heavily decomposed leather purse.

Christian Weiss, a coin expert with the Archaeological Services of Canton Bern, believes the identification of some of the coins lends credence to the theory that the skeleton was an itinerant merchant who was murdered, robbed, and hastily buried:

It is possible he was a traveling merchant, because we found coins in the purse from the Fribourg-Bern-Solothurn, Basel-Freiburg in Breisgau, and Luzern-Schwyz regions. Taken together, the coins are really just small change. There is nothing in the purse equivalent in value to, say, a hundred franc note today.

However, the fact that many coins were left behind does not fully support that murdered merchant theory; robbers would typically take the coin purse in its entirety.

The most recent coin was stamped in 1629.

Researchers still don’t have enough pieces of this archaeological puzzle to reach a definitive conclusion about this burial mystery. Thus, this skeleton joins Italy’s face-down “witch girl” in the ranks of unexplained and mysterious graves. Dead men tell no tales after all.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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