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Did Europe’s Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers Mummify Their Dead?

Friday, March 4, 2022

Portugal Sado ValleyUPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by Uppsala University, hunter-gatherers living in Europe may have mummified their dead through a natural drying process. An international team of researchers from Uppsala University, Linnaeus University, and the University of Libson studied photographs of 8,000-year-old skeletal remains unearthed in southern Portugal’s Sado Valley in the 1960s. After considering the positions of the 13 skeletons and the spatial distributions of the bones, the researchers reconstructed how the bodies might have been handled after death with what has been learned through human decomposition experiments. Mummified remains are thought to show hyperflexion of the limbs; an absence of disarticulation of the bones at weak joints, such as the feet; and rapid infilling of sediment around the bones. All of these conditions were found in one of the burials in the study. The analysis also showed that some of the bodies had been buried with the knees bent up against the chest—a position that may have been achieved through compressing the body with ropes or bandages while it dried and its volume decreased. The preserved articulation of the bones, the researchers added, could have been supported over time through rapidly infilled soil. Read the original scholarly article about this research in the European Journal of Archaeology. To read about a submerged landmass under the North Sea where hunter-gatherers lived more than 8,000 years ago, go to "Letter from Doggerland: Mapping a Vanished Landscape."

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