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Skulls attest to Iron Age scalping

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12:51pm, February 4, 2002

About 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus described, in gory detail, how Scythian warriors of central Asia scalped vanquished foes. Archaeologists now have identified the first hard evidence of that practice. According to their study, four previously unearthed adult male skulls, now housed in two Russian museums, come from Scythians whose scalps were removed after they were killed in battle.

An intermittent trail of incisions runs, ear-to-ear, horizontally across the back of each of the skulls, says Eileen M. Murphy of Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Metal tools made the marks during a process in which skin was peeled off the back and top of the head, she holds. Three of the skulls came from a Scythian cemetery. The fourth skull came from a mummified body discovered in a tomb of Scythian royals. Both sites are in southern Siberia.

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