The 9000-year-old grave of a shaman in Saxony-Anhalt has so far posed many mysteries. Now a team of experts has gained new insights into this. "The shaman's grave is a key find that provides deep insights into the beginnings of spirituality and religion and shows the central role women played in prehistory," says state archaeologist Harald Meller, who coordinates the project. "Thanks to the detective work of many scientists, we can reconstruct the fate and appearance of a unique woman."
He presents the results in the book "The riddle of the shaman. A journey to our archaeological beginnings", written together with the historian Kai Michel, which will be published by Rowohlt on October 18th.
The grave in Bad Dürrenberg (Saalekreis) was accidentally discovered in 1934 during sewer works. The woman was around 30 to 35 years old. In her arms she held an infant. A headdress made of deer antlers and numerous animal teeth is interpreted as part of a shamanic costume.
Bones were found during the 2019 excavations, which made it possible to determine the identity of the child. "Thanks to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, we now know it was a boy," says Meller. "But he wasn't her son." The case is an impressive example of what archaeogenetics can do today. "Their founder, Svante Pääbo, rightly received the Nobel Prize for medicine," says the state archaeologist.
The shaman comes from a time when dense primeval forests covered Europe after the Ice Age. "The living environment, which was radically changed by the climate, presented people with enormous challenges," explains Michel. "The shaman was a spiritual specialist who used the spirits to help people and heal others." She was so successful that people made pilgrimages to her from far and wide.
She was buried in an octagonal tomb. "It's extraordinary. In general, it's the richest grave of its time," says the state archaeologist. "We can show that it was visited centuries later."