Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cladh Hallan composites

Something wasn't adding up for professor of biomedical archaeology Terry Brown of the University of Manchester. He was examining the skeletonized remains of a man and woman that had been excavated in 2001 from the Cladh Hallan site (photo here, read more here and here) off the coast of Scotland. They had been buried in a fetal position beneath the foundations of a Bronze Age roundhouse. Analysis showed that they had died as much as 600 years earlier than that and had initially been mummified in a peat bog. But even stranger was the fact that the bones didn't match. Evidence of arthritis on the vertebrae of the man's neck was not apparent on the rest of his spine. His lower jaw had all its teeth, but the teeth of his upper jaw were entirely missing. The jaw of the woman didn't fit into the rest of the skull. Isotopic dating and DNA testing revealed that her lower jaw, arm bone and thighbone all came from different people, and he had the torso and limbs of one person, the skull and neck of another, and the lower jaw from a third. The reason for creating the composites is not known, and neither is the likelihood of finding others like them. “This practice may have been more common than we know,” says project co-director Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University. The merging of parts may have been a form of ancestor worship intended to symbolize the embodiment of traits from multiple lineages. Or, it may have been a practical means of replacing missing parts. “This raises more questions than it answers,” concludes Mulville.
Previous posts about bog bodies:

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