Visitors to some ancient villages in Switzerland and Germany weren't greeted by a nice garden or an archway. They encountered skulls—children's skulls, researchers say. According to a new study, certain lakeshore villages placed children's skulls and bones outside of town in an effort to ward off flooding, the Smithsonian reports. Why that conclusion? Because bones outside of one village were placed at the high water mark of flooding. And the villages, which existed between 2,600 and 3,800 years ago, experienced dire flooding from rising lake levels.
Other evidence of flooding is clear, like houses built on wooden foundations or stilts, and fences made out of bog pine, LiveScience reports. But the children's remains are more mysterious: They show signs of club or ax blows, yet the wounds weren't uniform, so they likely died from war rather than human sacrifice. And while they had respiratory problems or tooth decay, their health woes weren't bad enough to warrant mercy killings. So villagers likely dug up the child corpses for placement outside of town, researchers say. But other questions about these "mysterious Alpine people" remain, LiveScience notes, because very few of their buried dead have yet been uncovered. (Read about an ancient skeleton that may settle debate on early Americans.)