The Orkney Islands are a group of islands that are located off the north of Scotland. Thousands of years ago, the people inhabiting these islands are said to have practiced a grisly ritual that involved the dismemberment and defleshing of their dead relatives prior to transferring the bones to a common tomb.
The 72 or so tombs otherwise known as 'cairns' that dot the landscape date back 4,000 years and are objects of archaeological interest due to the mystery that surrounds how the Stone Age Orcadians buried their dead.
According to reports, Dr. Rebecca Crozier studied 12,275 bone fragments from 2 tombs that proved that the remains had been hacked to pieces prior to being mixed together in a communal grave: "The bones she examined, from about 6,000 years ago, showed mourners transferred full bodies to tombs. There, people chopped up the bodies and scraped flesh from their bones. Dr. Crozier is an archaeologist who specializes in mortuary analysis, forensic archaeology and osteology or the study of bones."
The reason for this ritual is that Orkney Islanders thought of their dead as a collective instead of individuals as this excerpt explains: "Academics believe the butchering of deceased loved ones around 6,000 years ago was done to remove their identity as individuals because dead ancestors were regarded as a collective group."
Dr. Crozier refers to this macabre behavior as “an expression of shared ancestral belonging.”
The ancient Orkney Islanders also believed that by dismembering dead family members and mixing them together they could overcome the problem of different bodies having different decay rates.
The practice of defleshing human bones is not isolated to the Orkney Islands alone but has also been reported in countries such as Turkey, the Philippines, Bolivia, and Italy.