Archaeologists Are Working To Unravel The Mystery Of Painted Bones Found In A 4,500-Year-Old Grave In Ukraine

The secondary burial ritual allowed the woman's body to be exhumed and her bones painted, after which she was placed carefully back inside her grave.

Archaeologists have discovered a female skeleton with painted bones in Ukraine.
AP / AP Images

The secondary burial ritual allowed the woman's body to be exhumed and her bones painted, after which she was placed carefully back inside her grave.

Archaeologists have been left deeply confused after discovering the 4,500-year-old remains of a woman who was found with painted bones in a grave beside the Dniester River in Ukraine. This ancient woman was just one of many different skeletons that were recovered, however, with different burial mounds placed at the site.

As Forbes reports, Ukrainian and Polish archaeologists have been excavating this site since 2010 and have so far retrieved the remains of 61 individuals from these barrow necropolises. These types of burials were common around 5,500 years ago, and the four burial mounds that were found by the Dniester River are reported to have once belonged to what has been called Yamna, otherwise known as “pit culture.”

While archaeologists are still trying to learn more about these prehistoric people who lived and died in the area, conducting DNA analysis on their skeletons has proven helpful when it comes to understanding how they would have lived their daily lives.

For instance, very few dental cavities were found in the skeletal remains of these individuals, but the detection of anemic responses seems to show that this group of people consumed large amounts of protein with not many carbohydrates, which would have been in keeping with their animal herding lifestyle.

But it was the discovery of one female skeleton in particular that really intrigued archaeologists. This woman was found buried in Porohy beside the remains of five children and 13 adults and wouldn’t have made it past the age of 30. Danuta Zurkiewicz, who works at the Institute of Archaeology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, noticed that when archaeologists were sketching their impression of her, “our attention was drawn to regular patterns, such as parallel lines, visible on both elbow bones.”

Archaeologists had never before seen paintings on any other Ukrainian skeletons from this particular culture or time period, and determined that “she had to be an important member of the community,” according to Zurkiewicz.

The painted decorations on the skeleton’s bones indicate that they were added to the woman’s remains quite some time after she had been buried. It is believed that her tomb was opened so that her skeleton could be taken out and painted with patterns, and then placed back in the grave again carefully with her bones rearranged back in their original positions.

After a chemical analysis was completed by scientists, it was determined that the material used for decorative paintings on the Ukrainian skeleton was most likely created out of tar.

Archaeologists call these kinds of paintings a secondary burial ritual, and while the meaning of these designs remains unclear at the moment, it is hoped that with further study researchers might finally understand why this female skeleton in Ukraine was removed from her grave so that her bones could be decorated with paint.