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Photos of 'Hybridized' Animal Sacrifices from Ancient England

An Iron Age settlement in southern England is home to curious, hybridized animal burials. Archaeologists uncovered a sheep buried with two extra legs, a horse skull buried with cow body parts and a cow skull with a horse jaw, among others. It's likely these ancient burials were animal sacrifices meant to please the gods, the researchers said. (Photo credit: copyright Bournemouth University.) [Read the full story on the hybrid animal burials]

Human sacrifice?

Archaeologists found the remains of an adult female who lived during the Iron Age in England, before Rome invaded in the middle of the first century A.D. The researchers found the individual lying face down at the bottom of a pit on top of horse and cow bones. It's possible that the ancient inhabitants of the settlement sacrificed the woman, but it's unclear why. 

Extra legs

The skeleton of a sheep with two added legs. The extra legs came from another sheep, the researchers said. 


This pit contains a cow skull with a horse jaw.

"The remains have been reassembled in a semi-fleshed state in the ground," said Miles Russell, a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology at Bournemouth University, and co-director of the Durotriges Big Dig. "What this meant precisely to the tribes we don't know, as nothing, sadly, was written down from the period and we have no record of the names or nature of the gods being invoked."


This horse skull is paired with cow body parts. 

Baa-baa black sheep

A sheep with a horse skull. 


An Iron Age pit containing a pig burial.

Three little pigs

A deep pit holding three sacrificed pigs.

Roundhouse real estate

Roundhouses under excavation, as seen from an aerial drone camera. 

Houses and pits

An aerial shot showing an Iron Age roundhouse, ancillary houses and their associated pits, which contain the animal remains. 

Excavation in progress

The two main trenches archaeologists dug to excavate the Iron Age settlement that existed in England before the Roman invasion. 

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Laura Geggel
As an associate editor for Live Science, Laura Geggel covers general science, including the environment, archaeology and amazing animals. She has written for The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site covering autism research. Laura grew up in Seattle and studied English literature and psychology at Washington University in St. Louis before completing her graduate degree in science writing at NYU. When not writing, you'll find Laura playing Ultimate Frisbee.