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]
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.
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 is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.