Researchers hypothesize that hair was dyed for the first time as a part of funeral rituals


The island of Menorca (derived from Latin Insula Minor or ‘smaller island’), one of the Balearic Islands, boasts its fair share of ancient historical legacy, ranging from indigenous Bronze Age cultures to the Romans. Pertaining to the former, a specific Biniadris Cave used by different societies over a period of 3300-2600 years ago, revealed a slew of fascinating funeral oriented arrangements. Excavated by the collaborative effort of archaeologists from the University of Granada (Spain), the University of Tübingen (Germany), and the University of Cambridge (Britain), the scope uncovered around 100 bodies, many ‘complemented’ by previously unknown funeral rituals, including dyed hair.


In fact, the Bronze Age society particularly had a proclivity for dyeing the hair of their deceased in red color, which might have mirrored a significant part of the funeral ritual. As Dr. Eva Alarcón García and Dr. Auxilio Moreno Onorato, researchers at the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the University of Granada, said –

Evidently, the red tufts of hair must have had symbolic value for these social groups. They were perfectly cut and deposited in containers of varying sizes that were made of different materials (metal, leather and even wood), which were then hidden in specific parts of the cave.

Beyond just the coloring of hair, this society practiced various other funeral rituals that possibly mirrored their local religion-based symbolism. For example, the bodies tended to be placed in the middle of the cave space, while being accompanied by ceramic fragments. Furthermore, the locals also seemed to have practiced trepanation, where a hole was drilled into the skull of the deceased. Dr. Alarcón explained –

There are no precedents for these kinds of social practices in the Iberian Peninsula and they are unique to the Balearic Islands. The buried were placed in the middle of the cave and a variety of elements were used during the rituals, such as plant materials (branches and trunks), ceramic vessels that must have played an important role given the degree of fragmentation they exhibit, iron oxide ores (‘ochre’), etc.


Lastly, the archaeologists also found evidence that most of these bodies were dressed in special attire. This ritualistic angle is rather bolstered by the findings of ancient V-perforated buttons, needles, and pieces of fabric from the clothes. To that end, currently, the researchers are analyzing the hair, fabric, and the residues inside the ceramic containers. And as for the incredible yet mysterious scope of the discovery, the University of Granada press release concluded –

Undoubtedly, the findings at the Biniadris Cave will raise many questions and pave the way for new lines of research, not only from archaeological perspectives but also from anthropological ones. For now, the main objective of the research is to solve the enigmas presented by these mysterious funeral rituals performed long ago in the Biniadris Cave.


The study was originally published in the Quaternary International journal.

Source / Images Credit: University of Granada