(Chapter III, section 6)

The Ofnet head burials

The third reasonably large series of Mesolithic crania in Europe comes from the Ofnet cave near Hohiheim in Bavaria,21 where thirty-three skulls were found neatly arranged in a solid circle, like eggs in a nest. Nineteen of them belonged to children, ten to women, and only four to men. Along with the skulls were, in most cases, the two topmost neck vertebrae, the axis and atlas. The bodies were missing. A few miles away, at Kaufertsberg, a single adult male skull has been discovered which was buried under identical circumstances.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to detect the murderers in this Mesolithic mystery. The peculiar sex ratio, the fact that all the heads were buried at once and while still fresh, and the further fact that all had been fractured by sharp blows with a lens-shaped implement similar in form to a roundpoled celt,22 make it unlikely that this was a normal, peaceful form of burial The skulls were daubed with red ochre, and a few flint implements were left with them. From these clues we may deduce that the killers, their victims, or both, were culturally either Tardenoisians,23 or Azilians, and that the date is probably Period II of the Mesolithic.24 These skulls do not form a homogeneous group, but differ greatly in head form, as well as in other characters. Of the two dolichocephals, the male #K1818 is obviously an Upper Palaeolithic survivor, without visible change. This skull exceeds the rest of the series in general size. It is extremely massive, with projecting browridges, a retreating forehead, a very broad face, extremely low orbits, and a ponderous mandible. Its cubic capacity is well over 1600 cc. Its companion, a male of lesser dimensions, is less extremely developed and falls closer to the general type of the series.

The mesocephals, which include Kaufertsberg, are smaller, and relatively higher vaulted; as Boule and Vallois have pointed out,25 they verge on the type of Téviec, which these authors consider to be Magdalenian survivals. At any rate, they do not seem to be intermediate between the dolichocephals just described, which resemble rather a full Aurignacian prototype, and the brachycephals.

The last present the real Ofnet problem. Two of the brachycephalic crania are masculine,26 two feminine, with the highest index, that of a female, 87. These skulls are long, wide, and of moderate vault height; the faces are without exception wide. In one of the male specimens (Ki 809) the greatest length of the skull lies in the forward segment, as with modern planoccipitals, such as Armenoids. The forehead of this skull is very wide, and the face extremely broad and low. The face is, furthermore, completely orthognathous, and the lower jaw is very massive, with flaring gonial angles and a square, bilateral chin. This jaw is also very high, and reduces the impression of shortness in the total facial plane. The other male specimen, on the borderline of brachycephaly (Ki 800) is the only one in the whole group which is hypsiconch, and one of two that are leptorrhine.

The female skulls show a considerable sex difference in head form, and likewise in browridges and other manifestations of bony relief. As with their Upper Palaeolithic prototypes, they are notably smaller, in most cases, than the males. On the whole, they vary much less than do the masculine crania, and fall closest to the brachycephalic male, Ki 809, in type.

Despite the differences between these skulls, which have been emphasized in the foregoing description, they all have in common an Upper Palaeolithic character. The dolichocephalic males might have been direct descendants of the local Late Pleistocene population or intruders of similar type from North Africa. The mesocephals might have been, and Probably were, the bearers of the Azilian culture from southern France to Bavaria. The brachycephals, on the other hand, may have been survivors of the type represented by Solutré #2 several thousand years earlier, but their resemblance to the brachycephals of Afalou bou Rummel is much stronger.

It is possible that the old Afalou type was thrust into central Europe at the head of the wave of migration which brought the smaller Mediterraneans to Portugal. It is likewise possible, but on archaeological grounds still impossible to demonstrate, that these brachycephals came from Asia Minor or Palestine, where an Afalou-like type existed in the early Natufian, and presumably still earlier. The question of the origin of these brachycephals cannot be settled without further data.27 At any rate, the skulls of the Ofnet victims serve to show that various survivors of an older order had begun to assemble north of the Alps in early post-glacial times.


21 Scheidt, W., Die eiszeitlichen Schädelfunde aus der grossen Ofnet-höhle, etc.

22 Mollison, T., AAnz, vol. 13, 1936, pp. 79—88.

23 Clark, J. G. 0., The Mesolithic Settlement of Northern Europe, p. 218.

24 Mollison, in view of the cross-section of the implement with which they were killed, suggests that the date may have been Late Magdalenian, since no such implement reappears until the Late Neolithic. Mollison, T., op. cit.

25 Boule, M., and Vallojs, H., AIPH, Mem. 18, pp. 170—177.

26 Including #K1 800, the C. I. of which is 79.85.

27 The photographs of at least three out of eight Ofnet crania, published by Scheidt, show apparent signs of tooth knocking. These are KI 809, upper right lateral incisor; K181 3, lower right median incisor; Kaufertsberg, lower left lateral incisor. Since incisor evulsion was found in some of the Natufian skulls, as well as in the one published Late Capsian cranium, this might indicate either a southeastern or a southwestern connection. (Personal communication of T. D. McCown, for Natufians. The Late Capsian skull is Aïn Mlila, described by Boule, Vallois, and Verneau in the Afalou monograph.)