Rarely does something as little as a chaffinch’s skull cause so much bewilderment as it did for Małgorzata Kot of the University of Warsaw’s Archaeological Institute when she stumbled across a cardboard box full of bones and documents.
“When we opened another dusty cardboard box, tiny bones appeared before our eyes. Their discoverer, Professor Waldemar Chmielewski, never published this find in detail,” Ms Kot recounted how she stumbled across the remains of a 10-year-old child discovered in a cave in Poland’s southern Kraków-Częstochowa Upland around 50 years ago. This is also the only modern skeleton discovered in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland so far.
According to the archaeologist, the child was buried at a very shallow depth and although carbon-dating proved she died in the latter part of the 18th, or at the beginning of the 19th century, the analysis did not reveal the infant’s gender.
The most astounding aspect of the accidental rediscovery was the fact that the child had a chaffinch’s skull inside her mouth. Another skull of the same bird species was found next to the infant’s cheek.
“This burial is a big surprise to us. This praxis is unknown among ethnologists, whom we consulted. This is a mystery to us, why the child was buried in the cave and not in the vicinity of a nearby village,” said Ms Kot, adding that the skull itself is stored in the archives of the western city of Wrocław’s University and its exact location remains unknown to this day.
What the archaeologists do know, however, is that the child was most probably undernourished.
Recently, another group of archaeologists led by Michał Wojenka of the Jagiellonian University found numerous human remains deeper in the cave. However, these bones were dated to 4,500 years old.
“This cave’s chamber was a place where people frequently buried their relatives across various historical periods,” stressed Ms Kot. The 5 km long Sąspowska Valley, where the 10-year-old’s remains were found, hosts several dozen caves where archaeologists discovered traces of human activity ranging from the paleolithic to medieval periods, including evidence of Neanderthals’ presence.