Infants Buried Wearing Helmets Made from Other Kids' Skulls Puzzle Archaeologists

The reasons behind this burial rite are still unknown.

Archaeologists discovered that around 2,100 years ago, two infants were buried wearing helmets made from other children's skulls.

These two children were found as part of 11 burial sites on the coast of Ecuador, in Salanga. The sites were discovered between 2014 and 2016, and the details of their discoveries were published recently in the journal Latin American Antiquity. 


As far as they know, the archaeologists have said that this is the first case where infants are buried in this unique manner. The reason for the children's deaths is unknown. 

Placing the helmets on their heads

These chilling helmets were tightly placed on the infants' heads, according to the archaeologists. It's also being speculated that the older children's skulls, used for the helmet, still had flesh on them when they were placed atop the infants' heads. 

The reason behind this assumption is that the helmet wouldn't otherwise have held together. 

Infants Buried Wearing Helmets Made from Other Kids' Skulls Puzzle Archaeologists
The remains of the infants buried with the skull helmets. Source: Sarah Juengst/University of North Carolina

The team saw, and wrote in their study, that one of the two infants' face was "looking through and out of the cranial vault — the area where the skull holds the brain. 

Adding to the oddness of it all, a "hand phalanx" — a type of bone — was placed between the infant's head and the helmet.

Lead author of the paper and anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Sarah Juengst, wrote that they don't know who the hand phalanx belonged to. 

Why were these helmets used?

Juengst and the team of archaeologists are still uncertain as to why these helmets were placed over the infants' heads. They speculate, however, that it "may represent an attempt to ensure the protection of these 'presocial and wild' souls."

There exist many ancient and diverse burial rituals around the world, and this may be another, unique one of them. 

The team's protection theory may be supported, as they also discovered ancestral figurines made out of stone buried next to the infants. This highlights the "concern with protecting and further empowering the heads," according to the archaeologists. 

In terms of understanding the causes for their untimely deaths, there has been previous work in the surrounding area that states a volcanic eruption covered the region with ash around the same time the infants were buried — some 2,100 years ago

This ash may have affected food production, and the team did discover that the infants' bones showed signs of malnutrition.

Infants Buried Wearing Helmets Made from Other Kids' Skulls Puzzle Archaeologists
Some of the remains found at the burial sites. Source: Sarah Juengst/University of North Carolina

It's also possible that "The treatment of the two infants was part of a larger, complex ritual response to environmental consequences of the eruption," the archaeologists wrote.

Something they are keen to keep looking into. 


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