July 10, 2012 11:01 am
Two 3,000 year old bodies discovered in a Scottish bog turned out not to be two bodies at all. The ancient skeletons are stitched together from the remains of six individuals.
According to new isotopic dating and DNA experiments, the mummies—a male and a female—were assembled from various body parts, although the purpose of the gruesome composites is likely lost to history.
The bodies were found more than a decade ago amongst the remains of an 11th century home on the Island of South Uist. Their creepy secret, however, was not revealed until now.
On the female skeleton, “the jaw didn’t fit into the rest of the skull,” he said. “So Mike [Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University] came and said, Could we try to work it out through DNA testing?”
Brown sampled DNA from the female skeleton’s jawbone, skull, arm, and leg. The results show that bones came from different people, none of whom even shared the same mother, he said.
The female is made from body parts that date to around the same time period. But isotopic dating showed that the male mummy is made from people who died a few hundred years apart.
Adding to the mystery, the scientists found that the bodies had first been buried in a peat bog, then moved to their final resting place and assembled into a fetal position. The deceased were left in the bog long enough to preserve their remains, but removed early enough so that the bog’s acidic condition didn’t eat through their bones.
The researchers aren’t sure why the villagers went through this unusual process, or why they built composite mummies in the first place.
One possibility, they say, is that the villagers wanted to create a symbolic ancestor that combined the traits of multiple groups of people. More likely than not, though, the mystery will prevail.
“I think you’d have to go back to a time when the rituals were more bizarre,” Brown said. “You’d have to go back to the mists of unrecorded time.”
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