Archaeologist Discovered prehistoric mummies made from jigsaw of body parts in Scotland

Archaeologist Discovered prehistoric mummies made from jigsaw of body parts in Scotland
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The 4 bodies discovered in 2001 on South Uist, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides were the first evidence in Britain of deliberate mummification.

It is thought the body parts may have come from individuals in the same families.

Sheffield University’s Prof Mike Parker Pearson said the mummies had not been buried straight after preservation.

The bodies had been buried hundreds of years after they had died
The bodies had been buried hundreds of years after they had died

A group from the University of Sheffield first uncovered the remains of a 3 month-old-child, a possible young female adult, a female in her 40s and a male under the prehistoric village of Cladh Hallan.

But recent tests on the remaining parts carried out by the University of Manchester, show that the “female burial”, previously recognized as such because of the pelvis of the skeleton, was, in fact, a composite.

It was made up of 3 different people, and some parts, such as the skull, were male.

Radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis demonstrated that the male mummy was also a composite.

Prof Parker Pearson, a specialist in the Bronze Age and burial rituals has a theory about why the mummies were put together this way.

“These could be kinship components, they are putting lineages together, the mixing up of various people’s body parts seems to be a deliberate act,” he said.

The results of the DNA work on the Cladh Hallan mummies will feature on the recent series of Digging For Britain on BBC2 in September with Dr. Alice Roberts

“I don’t believe these ‘mummies’ were buried quickly, but played an active part in society, as they do in some tribal societies in different parts of the world.”

He said as part of ancestral worship, the mummies probably would have been asked for spiritual advice to help the community make decisions.

Archaeologists Discovered the mummies in the foundations of a row of unusual Bronze Age terraced roundhouses.

But after being radiocarbon dated, all were found to have died between 300 and 500 years before the houses were constructed, meaning they had been kept above ground for quite a while by their descendants.

In order for the bodies to have been found as articulated skeletons as they were, rather than piles of bones, some soft tissue preservation had to have taken place.

Further tests showed that the bones had become demineralized, a process caused by placing a body in an acidic environment like a peat bog.

The bodies had been preserved in the peat bogs found on South Uist
The bodies had been preserved in the peat bogs found on South Uist

The degree of demineralization on the bones discovered showed that after death, the bodies had been placed in bogs for about a year to mummify them before being recuperated.

Mr. Parker Pearson said he believed there may be more examples of deliberate mummification in Britain that have been missed by archaeologists up until now.

The Cladh Hallan mummies had been carefully placed in the crouch burial position, a style of burial where the body is drawn up into the fetal position, generally found in the Bronze Age.

Archaeologists are sometimes puzzled by how the bodies were reshaped into such tight positions.

Prof Parker Pearson’s team are examining other crouch burial examples to see if these were, truth be told, the mummified remains of much older bodies as well.

Early outcomes are proving to be promising, as a sample from remains in Cambridge demonstrate that bacterial decay was halted at some point after death.

The results of the DNA work on the Cladh Hallan mummies will include on the latest series of Digging For Britain on BBC Two in September.


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.