The zombie apocalypse may be much more than a plot device exploited by modern horror movies. In fact, fears about the walking dead may go back all the way to the Stone Age.
Archaeologists working in Europe and the Middle East have recently unearthed evidence of a mysterious Stone Age "skull-smashing" culture, according to New Scientist. Human skulls buried underneath an ancient settlement in Syria were found detached from their bodies with their faces smashed in. Eerily, it appears that the skulls were exhumed and detached from their bodies several years after originally being buried. It was then that they were smashed in and reburied separate from their bodies.
According to Juan José Ibañez of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, the finding could suggest that these Stone Age "skull-smashers" believed the living were under some kind of threat from the dead. Perhaps they believed that the only way of protecting themselves was to smash in the corpses' faces, detach their heads and rebury them apart from their bodies.
But here's the creepy thing: many of the 10,000-year-old skulls appear to have been separated from their spines long after their bodies had already begun to decompose. Why would this skull-smashing ritual be performed so long after individuals had died? Did they only pose a threat to the living long after their original burial and death?
If it was a ritualistic exercise, it also begs the question as to why only select corpses were chosen. All of the smashed skulls were from adult males between the ages of 18 and 30. Furthermore, there was no trace of delicate cutting. It appears that the skulls' faces were simply smashed in using brute force with a stone tool.
Of course, there's almost certain to be a rational explanation for all of this. Then again, it's also fun to consider the possibility that these findings represent evidence for a Stone Age zombie uprising.
Let's consider a few key facets of zombie mythology. Zombies, as we know, are hungry for the flesh of the living, and the only way to stop them is with a head shot. In many zombie movies, this involves shooting them in the cranium. One might surmise that the Stone Age equivalent of this would be to instead smash in their faces with a big rock. Perhaps the lopping off of their heads was then performed to ensure that the job was done.
Furthermore, perhaps the reason the original dead bodies seemed to be exhumed before their heads were properly smashed in was because the dead had risen from their own graves, under their own power.
Maybe, just maybe, Stone Age Syrians battled against and saved the world from an imminent zombie apocalypse some 10,000 years ago. While the theory may not make great fodder for a scientific thesis, it nevertheless sets up the plotline for a B-grade horror movie to perfection.
Ibañez, not biting, operates with a cooler head. Being ever the sound researcher, he has proposed more tempered theories to explain the findings. For instance, it's possible that Stone Age people simply believed that they could absorb the strength of the dead young men by performing their ritual. This would help explain why all the skulls were from young men. It would also help to explain why the heads were buried directly underneath a thriving settlement. He also suggested the head-smashing could have been an act of revenge or spite.
Liv Nilsson Stutz at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, suggested the act could also have been a way of dealing with grief: "Taking away facial identity could be a way of separating the dead from the living," she said.