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Twin Burials in Prehistory: A Possible Case from the Iron Age of Germany



Compared with other mammals, multiple births are rare in humans. The attitude towards multiple births varies widely among cultures. Although expected to be present, evidence for twin burials from prehistoric times is scarce. However, knowledge about the attitude of ancient societies towards twins, as expressed for instance by funeral practices, would provide interesting insights into the spiritual world of these people. In 2001, an Iron Age settlement site was excavated near Ochtendung, Germany. The skeletons of two perinatal individuals were found in situ in shallow depressions close to post-holes of a house pit in the western part of the settlement. The individuals appear to have been deposited in the depressions without special care, as one of them was face down. No archaeological findings were associated with the skeletons. Age at death of the two individuals was estimated to be between 36 and 40 weeks' gestation. The cusp patterns of the lower left first molars exhibit a similar configuration of the disto-buccal cusps in both individuals, probably a division of the hypoconid. The investigation of the bones and the teeth revealed a similar stage of development of the individuals and supports the hypothesis of closely related individuals, probably twins. An interpretation as ‘building sacrifices’ seems unwarranted, considering the careless deposition of the bodies and the absence of any grave goods. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.