14 October 2018
Prehistoric children learned many skilled tasks
Researchers paid little heed to children in the archaeological record until recently, but in the 1990s more archaeologists began to examine the role of women, leadng some to begin studying other groups, including children. Artefacts and skeletal remains that provide details of child labour from long ago are still relatively scarce, but a surge of interest in the archaeology of childhood is revealing the work that youngsters performed.
Researchers excavating the ancient salt mines of Hallstatt, Austria, have discovered a child-sized leather cap dated to between 1300 and 1000 BCE, along with very small mining picks. This suggests that children were working in these mines at least two centuries earlier than previously thought. To confirm this, archaeologist Hans Reschreiter at the Natural History Museum of Vienna and his colleagues plan to test human excrement found in the Bronze Age section for sex hormone which younger children would lack.
When archaeologist Melie Le Roy at the Mediterranean Laboratory of Prehistory in Europe and Africa in Aix-en-Provence analysed a jumble of skeletal remains from prehistoric tombs in France, she found three baby teeth with cylindrical grooves formed when people repeatedly use their teeth for stretching and softening animal tendon or plant material, probably used for sewing or making baskets. The teeth belonged to two children no older than nine. They date to between 3500 and 2100 BCE - the oldest evidence for children engaged in skilled labour. Le Roy is about to start surveying human remains from more than 30 French burial sites from the same time period, and expects to find more evidence of young children at work.
When archaeologist Steven Dorland at the University of Toronto, Canada, examined ceramic shards from a prehistoric village datng to the 15th century CE in what is now southern Canada, he saw miniscule fingernail marks. The sizes showed that kids aged six or younger were forming clay vessels. In some modern-day communities only pots of a certain quality would be put in the kiln, but at Dorland's site youngsters' misshapen starter pots were also fired.
Bricks and roof tiles excavated from a Lithuanian castle, dated to between the 13th and 17th centuries CE bear the fingerprints of their young creators. Analysis suggests that children between the ages of eight and thirteen made more than 10 percent of the recovered building materials.
Edited from Nature (18 September 2018)
13,000-year-old brewery discovered in Israel
The earliest evidence of alcohol production has been discovered in the Rakefet Cave in Mount Carmel. Probably a kind of beer made from fermented grains, the brew was produced by the Natufians who lived in the region at that time.
The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BCE in the Levant, and was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population before the introduction of agriculture. Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements in the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Natufians are believed to have founded Jericho, considered by many to be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests Natufian cultivation of cereals at Tell Abu Hureyra in what is now northern Syria - site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. The world's oldest evidence of bread-making has been found at Shubayqa, a 14,500 year old site in Jordan's northeastern desert.
Mount Carmel was one of the most important and crowded areas in the system of Natufian settlements, and sites there and in surrounding areas have been studied for decades.
Excavation leader Professor Danny Nadel of the University of Haifa: "The Rakefet Cave does not stop offering new discoveries about the wonderful Natufian culture. We have already discovered that they buried their dead and that they lined the graves with a bed of flowers. We discovered their technological capabilities through a variety of tools and now we find that they produced beer and consumed it, apparently at special ceremonies."
Another finding at the Rakefet Cave site were dozens of craters carved several centimeters deep in the rock. One test revealed evidence of several different grains stored in the same craters, including wheat, barley, oatmeal, legumes, and flax. Other tests showed remains of starch grains that underwent changes corresponding to fermentation, craters used to store grains before and after fermentation, and for crushing and grinding of grains. Remnants of fibers found at the bottom of the craters indicates grains were stored in woven baskets.
Edited from Jewishpress.com (13 September 2018)
Neolithic and Bronze Age finds in Cyprus
The multi-period site of Prastio-Mesorotsos is situated around a prominent rocky outcrop in the Dhiarizos Valley, with dramatic views to both the mountains and the sea and easy access to abundant natural resources. In 2018 - the tenth excavation season at the site - digs in four areas exposed remains from the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and the Early and Middle Bronze Ages.
In Area 5 an impressive structure was uncovered in contexts dating to the Aceramic Neolithic period circa 6000 BCE - a very rare find of a built structure from this period. It appears to be a circular stone structure topped with plaster, resembling circular platforms from Kritou Marottou-Ais Yiorkis, though it could be a wall of a small building similar to those found at Khirokitia. Above this were Late Neolithic deposits in what appears to be an unbroken sequence from the Aceramic into the Ceramic Neolithic period - a poorly understood period of Cypriot prehistory.
In Area 4 evidence for Early Bronze Age occupation circa 2000 BCE was found. An extension of a previously excavated roundhouse revealed a large open bowl with an unusual knobbed interior base sitting directly on the floor. The bowl had been placed into a special setting surrounded by stones within the larger arc of the roundhouse, indicating special significance. The size of the bowl suggests something other than everyday eating and could indicate feasting activities. This building's use would have been contemporary with the construction of the famous "Vounous Bowl" with its complex depiction of a building with humans and animals in it. At a time when rectilinear achitecture was common, the fact that this building from Prasteio and the "Vounous Bowl" are both curvilinear and feature areas of special communal nature is striking.
The final prehistoric activities on the site were investigated in Area 11 where the remains are extremely well preserved - in some cases more than 2 metres in height - probably due to the deliberate infilling of the internal spaces during the terracing event. The interior spaces in the well-preserved rooms were excavated this season and on the first terrace a plaster floor was found with a figurine of a bull resting on the surface - further evidence for the types of activities that took place in this space and for the type of society in the Middle Cypriot period at the site.
The settlement, its architecture, and probably lifestyle in general was significantly reconfigured around 1900 BCE in the Middle Cypriot period, with a massive series of terraces in several areas of the site, a more sophisticated style of rectilinear architecture, and new elements of material culture - changes representng growing social stratification, culminating in the abandonment of the site towards the end of the period.
Edited from Tornos News (12 September 2018)
Scientists identify oldest Homo sapiens drawing
The oldest known abstract drawing by a Homo sapiens has been found in South Africa's Blombos Cave, on the face of a flake of rock dated to 73,000 years BP. It is a crosshatch of nine lines, traced with a piece of ocher. The work is at least 30,000 years older than the earliest previously known abstract and figurative drawings executed by Homo sapiens using the same technique. The drawing was a surprising find by archaeologist Doctor Luca Pollarolo, an honorary research fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Blombos Cave has been excavated by Professor Christopher Henshilwood and Doctor Karen van Niekerk since 1991. It contains material dating from between 100,000 to 70,000 years ago - the Middle Stone Age - as well as younger, Later Stone Age material dating from beteen 2000 and as recently as 300 years ago.
Under the guidance of Professor Francesco d'Errico at the University of Bordeaux, the team examined and photographed the piece under a microscope to establish whether the lines were part of the stone or applied to it, and also examined the piece by using spectroscopy and an electron microscope. Experimenting with various techniques, they found the drawings were made with an ocher crayon or pencil, with a tip of between 1 and 3 millimeters. The abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake suggested that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface, and may have been more complex.
Professor Henshilwood: "Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40,000 years ago, and later replaced local Neanderthals. Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which members of our team have often participated, support a much earlier emergence for the production and use of symbols."
The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was found also yielded other shell beads covered with ocher, and pieces of ocher engraved with abstract patterns, some of which closely resemble the one on the stone flake.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (12 September 2018)
Exciting new finds at Orkney World Heritage site
The Ness of Brodgar is a 2.5 hectare site on the island of Stromness in Orkney, north of mainland Scotland. It lies within a greater area, known as the Orkney World Heritage Site. Excavations started in 2003 and it features in the top five favourites of TV historian Neil Oliver, in his series "The Story of the British Isles in 100 places".
The excavations in 2018 are quite extensive with over 160 active diggers. They are being run by the Ness of Brodgar Trust, in conjunction with the Archaeological Institute of the University of the Highlands (UHI). They are particularly excited about the discovery of several polished stone axes, made from Gneiss stone, which has a sheet like planar structure. Activity on the site covered the period from 3,2000 BCE until 2,300 BCE and to date over 14 massive stone structures have been uncovered.
The largest axe found so far had a damaged cutting edge which lead Site Director Nick Card to remark "It is nice to find pristine examples of stone axes but the damage on this one tells us a little bit more about the history of this particular axe. The fact that the cutting edge has been heavily damaged suggests that it was a working tool rather than a ceremonial object. We know that the buildings in the complex were roofed by stone slabs so this axe was perhaps used to cut and fashion the timber joists that held up the heavy roof".
Edited from BBC News (8 August 2018)
26 September 2018
Scotland's largest find of prehistoric pottery
Remains of more than 200 prehistoric eating bowls and cooking vessels were found on land at Meadowend Farm near Clackmannan, about 40 kilometres northwest of Edinburgh. The collection spans more than 2,000 years, with the oldest piece dating to around 4,000 BCE. The fragments reveal their owners' diets may have included yoghurt, butter, and cheese, as well as roasted hazelnuts and toasted barley.
More than 2,000 sherds of pottery were found across two fields, in rubbish pits dug by the site's earliest-known occupants. Julie Franklin of Headland Archaeology, who published the report, says: "The pieces were in such good condition and they just kept coming. We wondered when it was going stop. Normally you might come across some sherds or a couple of larger pieces but we had so much of the stuff. When we knew most of the pots were Neolithic, we knew we had found something important. It was the biggest collection of this kind of neolithic pottery ever found in Scotland."
Most of the finds were Middle Neolithic "Impressed Ware", which date from around 3300 BCE to 3000 BCE - the largest collection from this era ever found in Scotland. One of the materials used in the vessels - crushed quartz dolerite - is found close to the site. Julie Franklin adds; "We don't understand the organisation of the Neolithic pottery industry that well but it was really quite finely made."
A substantial number of pots were likely used for cooking. Charred hazelnut shells, oats, and burnt cereal grains were found across the site.
Analysis of a round-bottomed carinated bowl shows the vessel once contained milk-derived fats. The report says the discovery "demonstrates once more that Scotland's early farmers were dairy farmers, exploiting their domesticated cattle not only for their meat but also for their secondary products." Although Neolithic people of the area were likely lactose intolerant, they would have been able to digest yoghurt, butter, and cheese.
Evidence of six Bronze Age roundhouses were also discovered.
Edited from The Scotsman (12 September 2018)
25 September 2018
The mysterious bronze hand found in Switzerland
In October 2017, a pair of metal detectorists made an extraordinary discovery near a Swiss lake: a sculpted bronze hand with a gold cuff dating back some 3,500 years. Archaeologists have never seen anything quite like it, and are at a loss to explain its purpose or function. And in an unfortunate turn, the hand is now at the center of a criminal investigation.
The bronze hand and its thin gold cuff, along with a bronze dagger and a human rib bone, were discovered near Lake Biel in the Bernese Jura, about 45 km from Bern (Switzerland). The items were handed over to specialists at the Ancient History and Roman Archeology Department in the Bern Archaeological Service one day after the discovery.
The hand of Prêles, as it's now called, is slightly smaller than an adult hand and was cast from about a pound of bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the organic, vegetable-based glue used to adhere the gold band to the hand's wrist places the artifact to between 1,400 and 1,500 BCE, back during Europe's Middle Bronze Age. The archaeologists studying the hand, a team led by Andrea Schae, say it's doubtful the hand was worn; a socket inside the hand suggests it was mounted on a staff of some kind.
Schae's team returned to the site in the Bernese Jura to conduct further excavations. They discovered that a grave, possibly a tomb, that unfortunately "had suffered significant damage as a result of recent work." There are indications that some objects were stolen from the site and a spokesperson for the Canton Archaeological Service of Bern confirmed that "a criminal investigation is currently underway in this matter."
Despite this, the researchers managed to uncover more items at the site, including the bones of a middle-aged male, a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral likely worn as a hair ornament, more bits of gold foil (likely from the hand), and one of the sculpture's missing fingers. The archaeologists say the hand was likely buried with the man, of whom we know virtually nothing.
Beneath the grave, the researchers uncovered a stone-based structure. Apparently, "The man and the bronze hand were deliberately buried over this older construction. He must have been a high-ranking character," wrote the researchers. "To the knowledge of Swiss, German and French specialists, there has never been a comparable sculpture dating from the Bronze Age in Central Europe. The hand of Prêles is now the oldest bronze piece representing a part of the human body. It is therefore a unique and remarkable object," they added.
A formal research paper to describe the findings is forthcoming, but the researchers are still trying to figure out if the items were manufactured nearby or imported from afar. They're also struggling to understand the purpose of the sculpted bronze hand. "We do not know either the meaning and the function attributed to it," the authors wrote. "Its gold ornament suggests that it is an emblem of power, a distinctive sign of the social elite, even of a deity. The hand is extended by a hollow form that suggests that it was originally mounted on another object: it was perhaps part of a scepter or a statue."
24 September 2018
Excavations to be resumed at Belgian megalithic site
Archaeological digs will resume on the megalithic site of Wéris (in the municipality of Durbuy, Belgium), listed in 1974 and placed on the List of Exceptional Heritage Sites in Wallonia since 2014. The announcement came from the Walloon Minister for Heritage, René Collin.
With its 17 standing stones and two covered alleyways, the megalithic field in Wéris is the oldest of its kind in Belgium. Spread over a length of eight kilometres, these two parallel menhir rows have been subject to several excavations since the end of the 19th century.
The new dig is going to comprise "a global search, on a large scale, which will enable a better understanding of both the general layout of the monuments and their interaction within the countryside."
The minister stated that the project will also be the opportunity to reposition the two menhirs, discovered in 1984, within their trench, and to look for the foundation trench of the menhir 'Dantinne', moved in 1947. He also added that it will also enable the production of an archaeological assessment of the site. The Walloon Heritage Agency will undertake coordination of the project.
Edited from The Brussels Times (21 September 2018)
Ancient Scottish hillfort recreated in Lego
A 2,500-year-old Scottish hillfort has been recreated in Lego. The real Dun Deardail was constructed of timber and stone on a prominent knoll on Sgorr Chalum, a hill overlooking the River Nevis in Glen Nevis. It was destroyed in a fire, with the heat so intense that the stones used in the defensive ramparts melted.
Brick to the Past, a team specialising in historically-themed Lego models, used about 35,000 pieces for the recreation. It was commissioned by the Fort William-based Nevis Landscape Partnership. Brick to the Past's other creations have included a 10,000-piece Iron Age Broch.
Dan Harris, of Brick the Past, began his research for the Lego model in December last year. He started building it at his home in Nethy Bridge in late January and the model was finished in mid-August.
Mr Harris said: "I've been visiting Glen Nevis and the surrounding area of years to walk and climb, so it's an absolute delight to have been able to build a model of one of its landmarks. It's great to be able to display at one of Scotland's most popular tourist destinations and I hope that the model will encourage people to get out and explore the real hillfort."
The name Dun Deardail, Derdriu's Fort, links it to an ancient Iron Age Irish myth called The Sorrow of Derdriu. The legend tells of a chieftain's daughter who was said to be so beautiful that kings, lords and warriors fought and died trying to win her hand in marriage.
Edited from BBC News (6 September 2018)
23 September 2018
Early Neolithic miniature masks
All Neolithic cultures in the Near East made masks. Why? What were the rituals and ideas behind the masks? Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff, and Laura Dietrich wrote about these mysterious masks in an in-depth article published in The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Web magazine.
Ancient stone masks from the Judean Hills weigh up to 2 kilograms, bearing almost expressionistic facial features - each is individual, as if depicting specific human beings. Some have holes around the rim, probably to allow them to be attached to something, or to even be worn. The oldest of these Southern Levantine masks date back to the mid 9th and 8th millennia BCE.
Since examples excavated in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel during the early 1980s were found in a 'cultic' assemblage, a ritual use of these masks was assumed. At Jerf el Ahmar, a site in northern Syria dating to the 10th millennium BCE and characterised by round and rectangular buildings with limestone foundations, two little stone heads were reported which show a conspicuous concave cavity on their back. They are made from pebbles, only about 4 cm high and show eyes, a nose, and mouth.
Another miniature stone mask or depiction of similar size is known from Nevalı Çori in southeastern Turkey. Eyes, nose, and mouth are again depicted, and the back is concave. Nevalı Çori has become well known as the first place where an important characteristic element of architecture of the region was discovered: T-shaped, apparently anthropomorphic, pillars. These link it to another nearby site that also has produced a number of comparable masks: Göbekli Tepe.
Three of the masks found at Göbekli Tepe have similar styles to the example from Nevalı Çori, with non-individualized faces. However, at Göbekli Tepe the mouth is not depicted, while the Nevalı Çori mask almost gives the impression the face is screaming. Together with the finds from other sites, a large repertoire of masks in different styles is suggested. All types, with and without mouths, more individualized or abstract, are also well attested for in the large repertoire of limestone sculpture found at Göbekli Tepe.
Burial rites at Göbekli Tepe seem to have been applied to the hierarchical system of anthropomorphic depictions. The enclosures' central pillars are abstracted and clearly anthropomorphic. The surrounding pillars are also stylized, but smaller and contain zoomorphic decoration. During backfilling of the enclosures, a selection of fragments, mostly (masked?) heads, and complete masks, was placed inside the fills, most often near the central pillars.
If we assume that the stone masks are miniature or supra-sized representations of real organic masks worn by humans, they might attest that ritual activity at Göbekli Tepe and other sites included masquerades, where people acted out parts of a complex mythology. When enclosures were put out of use, masks and miniatures were buried with them, freezing rituals in time and space.
During the early Neolithic in the Near East, masks and masking played a significant role in rituals re-enacting mythological narratives closely related to death, taking place at sites with special purpose buildings and rich iconography. This importance apparently justified the time-consuming and complicated manufacture of these paraphernalia as well as miniature and larger-than-life-sized representations. A small number of masks in stone are all what remains of what was likely a widespread Early Neolithic tradition of ritual masquerade.
Edited from Asor.org (September 2018)
Neolithic people adapted to climate change
New study reveals evidence of how Neolithic people adapted to climate change. The study centred on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic city settlement of Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia, Turkey which existed from approximately 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE.
During the height of the city's occupation a well-documented climate change event 8,200 years ago occurred which resulted in a sudden decrease in global temperatures caused by the release of a huge amount of glacial meltwater from a massive freshwater lake in northern Canada.
Examining the animal bones excavated at the site, scientists concluded that the herders of the city turned towards sheep and goats at this time, as these animals were more drought-resistant than cattle. Study of cut marks on the animal bones informed on butchery practices: the high number of such marks at the time of the climate event showed that the population worked on exploiting any available meat due to food scarcity.
The authors also examined the animal fats surviving in ancient cooking pots. They detected the presence of ruminant carcass fats. The scientists deducted that the isotopic information carried in the hydrogen atoms (deuterium to hydrogen ratio) from the animal fats was reflecting that of ancient precipitation. A change in the hydrogen signal was detected in the period corresponding to the climate event, thus suggesting changes in precipitation patterns at the site at that time.
Dr. Mélanie Roffet-Salque, lead author of the paper, said: "This is the first time that such information is derived from cooking pots. We have used the signal carried by the hydrogen atoms from the animal fats trapped in the pottery vessels after cooking. This opens up a completely new avenue of investigation - the reconstruction of past climate at the very location where people lived using pottery."
Co-author, Professor Richard Evershed, added: "It is really significant that the climate models of the event are in complete agreement with the H signals we see in the animal fats preserved in the pots. The models point to seasonal changes farmers would have had to adapt to which would have had inevitable impacts on agriculture."
Edited from Phys.org (13 August 2018)
Megalithic passage tomb discovered in Co Meath
A Megalithic passage tomb dating back some 5,500 years has been discovered at the 18th century Dowth Hall in Co Meath (Ireland). The discovery is within the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. It was made during an excavation carried out by the agri-technology company Devenish in partnership with University College Dublin School of Archaeology.
To date, two burial chambers have been discovered within the western part of the main passage tomb, over which a large stone cairn (c.40m diameter) was raised. The six kerbstones that have been identified so far would have formed part of a ring of stones that followed the cairn perimeter. One kerbstone is heavily decorated with Neolithic carvings and represents one of the most impressive discoveries of megalithic art in Ireland for decades. During the course of this project, a further two possible satellite tombs were also found.
Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, Devenish's lead archaeologist for the project said: "For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime." Dr Stephen Davis of the UCD School of Archaeology said today: "This is the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years, since the excavation of Knowth. The spate of archaeological discoveries in Brú na Bóinne in recent weeks highlights what a globally significant place this is."
10 September 2018
Mammoth 'kill site' and ancient graves discovered in Austria
During roadworks on a new bypass near Drasenhofen (Austria), archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric 'kill site' full of mammoth remains, where ancient people used to herd the large mammals so they could be killed and butchered.
Researchers found massive mammoth tusks and bones as well as the remains of other large animals. The 16-square-metre site is estimated to be between 18,000 and 28,000 years old and Stone Age tools were found there as well.
Ancient civilisations used to strategically drive large animals, including mammoths, into the death zones. Areas were pre-selected by humans that they knew were difficult for mammoths to traverse, giving them a clear advantage over the giant woolly mammal. They would then kill mammoths using spears and butcher them on site.
Martin Krenn of the Austrian Federal Monuments Office said: "The Palaeolithic kill site is the first to be excavated in Austria and was analysed using state-of-the-art methods. It gives us a sensational overview of the Palaeolithic people's way of life." In total, €2.4 million (£2.16 million) will be invested in the archaeological excavations before the new motorway bypass opens in autumn 2019.
At a nearby site, where road workers are constructing a roundabout, graves attributed to the Bell-Beaker people were found. The Beaker culture was a prehistoric civilisation native to western and Central Europe which started in the late Neolithic period and lasted until the early Bronze Age. Archaeologists think the graves date from between 2,600 and 2,200 BCE.
Edited from Metro (7 September 2018)
7,200-year-old cheese making found in Croatia
Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products - soft cheeses and yogurts - from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers. "This pushes back cheese-making by 4,000 years," said Sarah B. McClure, associate professor of anthropology.
The presence of milk in pottery in this area is seen as early as 7,700 years ago, 500 years earlier than fermented products, said the researchers. DNA analysis of the populations in this area indicate that the adults were lactose-intolerant, but the children remained able to consume milk comfortably up to the age of ten. "First, we have milking around, and it was probably geared for kids because it is a good source of hydration and is relatively pathogen-free," said McClure. "It wouldn't be a surprise for people to give children milk from another mammal."
However, about 500 years later, the researchers see a shift not only from pure milk to fermented products, but also in the style and form of pottery vessels. "Cheese production is important enough that people are making new types of kitchenware," said McClure. "We are seeing that cultural shift."
The researchers looked at pottery from two sites in Croatia in Dalmatia - Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj. When possible, they selected samples from unwashed pottery, but because some pottery forms are rarer, used washed samples for the sieves. They tested the pottery residue for carbon isotopes, which can indicate the type of fat and can distinguish between meat, fish, milk and fermented milk products.
According to the researchers, dairying may have opened northern European areas for farming because it reduced infant mortality and allowed for earlier weaning, decreasing the birth interval and potentially increasing population. It also supplied a storable form of nutrition for adults, because the fermentation of cheese and yogurt reduce the lactose content of milk products, making it palatable for adults as well as children. With a food source that could buffer the risk of farming in colder northern climates, farmers could expand their territories.
Edited from EurekAlert! (5 September 2018)
Did the people buried at Stonehenge come from Wales?
Recent analysis of cremated human remains excavated from Stonehenge has shown that some of the individuals buried at the Neolithic monument may have spent some of their lives in western Britain, or even west Wales, the same region where the Stonehenge bluestones are believed to have come from.
During William Hawley's excavations of the famous monument between 1919 and 1926, up to 58 individual cremations were unearthed. These were subsequently reinterred in a single pit, which was re-excavated in 2008. At least 25 individuals were identified from the recovered remains and all were radiocarbon dated to between 3180-2965 and 2565-2380 BCE. This places the burials in the earlier stages of the monument's construction, a period when cremation was a common funerary practice in Britain.
Now, samples from these remains have also been subjected to isotope analysis, to find out more about where the individuals came from. Strontium isotopes provide information on a person's whereabouts in the last decade or so before death, and remain preserved even in cremated bone.
The results of the isotope analysis showed that 15 individuals had ratios consistent with the chalky geology found at Stonehenge, and for at least 15km in any direction from the monument. This suggests that in the years leading up to their deaths, they most likely obtained much of their diet from (and therefore probably lived in) the local area. The other ten individuals, though, yielded significantly different results. Three had isotope ratios that were so dissimilar to the Stonehenge area that they are unlikely to have obtained any of their diet from the region. Instead, their isotope values point to older lithologies more in keeping with parts of Devon and Wales, particularly western Wales. The other seven had isotope values in between the two, possibly reflecting a diet that came from both west Wales and Wessex.
These results lend further credence to the idea that during the Neolithic there was a strong connection between west Wales and Salisbury Plain, which included the movement of both materials and people.
Edited from Current Archaeology (3 September 2018)