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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Indications of sudden death--or something else?


In this article in the Biblical Archaeology Review, the remains of an ancient Palestinian are described as "a badly crushed human skeleton . . . sprawled on its back with limbs splayed, indicative of sudden death."

I ran a search on "indicative of sudden death" and found that all other references were to forensic investigations in the present. This was the only one in an archaeological setting. And there were no hits whatsoever for the two terms in juxtaposition, "limbs splayed", and "sudden burial."

Actually, it is sudden burial, not sudden death, which is most likely indicated by a crushed and splayed skeleton. Most people who die suddenly are subsequently laid to rest in a position of calm repose, with nothing to indicate how fast it took them to die.

I raise this issue because most vertebrate fossils are found sprawled and crushed, and often fragmentary; very indicative of sudden burial--and just as sudden contemporaneous death. Yet the classic view of fossilisation requires a long and gradual process of burial.

If archaeologists can clearly recognise the signs of sudden burial--whether or not they know what to properly call it--why can't paleontologists?

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