21 May 2015
Newgrange to be X-rayed
The base of the 5,000- year-old Neolithic monument at Newgrange, Co Meath (Ireland), is to be X-rayed by a researcher in a bid to determine the origin of its granite boulders.
Dr Ian G Meighan of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, who holds an honorary research position in Trinity College Dublin, is determining whether the boulders come from Newry or Mourne. He said work would get under way before the end of the year, using technology formerly used at Tara mines and now in the possession of Trinity College.
Speaking at the launch of 'First Light: the Origins of Newgrange' by Office of Public Works archaeologist Dr Robert Hensey, Dr Meighan said the X-rays would detect and quantify trace metals and identify the source of the granite. Newry and Mourne granite were "like chalk and cheese", he said.
'First Light: the Origins of Newgrange' is published as part of the 'Insights in Archaeology' series, by Oxbow Books, Oxford.
Edited from The Irish Times (20 May 2015)
19 May 2015
Declining mobility drove humans' shift to lighter bones
A new study of the bones of hundreds of humans who lived during the past 33,000 years in Europe finds the rise of agriculture and a corresponding fall in mobility drove a shift to lighter bones, rather than urbanization, nutrition or other factors. The discovery sheds light, researchers say, on a monumental change that has left modern humans susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition marked by brittle and thinning bones.
At the root of the finding is the knowledge that putting bones under the 'stress' of walking, lifting and running leads them to pack on more calcium and grow stronger. "There was a lot of evidence that earlier humans had stronger bones and that weight-bearing exercise in modern humans prevents bone loss, but we didn't know whether the shift to weaker bones over the past 30,000 years or so was driven by the rise in agriculture, diet, urbanization, domestication of the horse or other lifestyle changes," says Christopher Ruff, Ph.D. , a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "By analyzing many arm and leg bone samples from throughout that time span, we found that European humans' bones grew weaker gradually as they developed and adopted agriculture and settled down to a more sedentary lifestyle, and that moving into cities and other factors had little impact," Ruff added.
The researchers took molds of bones from museums' collections and used a portable X-ray machine to scan them, focusing on the tibia, femur, and humerus from 1,842 people from sites throughout Europe as old as 33,000 years and as recent as the 20th century. "By comparing the lower limbs with the upper limbs, which are little affected by how much walking or running a person does, we could determine whether the changes we saw were due to mobility or to something else, like nutrition," Ruff says.
The researchers found a decline in leg bone strength between the Mesolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago, and the age of the Roman Empire, which began about 2,500 years ago. Arm bone strength, however, remained fairly steady. "The decline continued for thousands of years, suggesting that people had a very long transition from the start of agriculture to a completely settled lifestyle," Ruff says. "The difference in bone strength between a professional tennis player's arms is about the same as that between us and Paleolithic humans," he says.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (18 May 2015)
Volunteers help repair ancient cairn in Ireland
A group of volunteers has helped to repair a 5,000-year-old burial cairn on one of Northern Ireland's most significant mountains. Around 30 of them trekked to the top of Slieve Gullion in south Armagh to carry out the work, under the supervision of an archaeologist. They helped to fix damage done to the huge passage grave by the weather and increasing numbers of hill walkers. As a result, the entrance to the site was in danger of being blocked.
Archaeologist Martin Keery, who oversaw the work, praised the enthusiasm of the volunteers who climbed the mountain to help repair what is Ireland's highest passage grave. "This is the highest mountain in this area, so this would have been a prestigious site," Mr Keery said. He said its prominence and size meant the burial chamber would have been used for the cremation of important figures of the period.
The work was organised by the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership which was established to conserve and promote the environment in the area. The mountain also features prominently in Irish mythology. The legendary warrior, Cu Chulainn, is said to have been given his name there after he killed a ferocious guard dog which had attacked him.
Edited from BBC News (18 May 2015)
Cahokia's rise and fall linked to river flooding
At its peak, between around 1050 and 1200 CE, Cahokia - the famous complex of earthen mounds about 500 kilometres southwest of Chicago, USA - wielded economic power and religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Until about 1,400 years ago, the area was prone to frequent and severe floods, with the Mississippi River rising at least 10 meters. Beginning around 600 CE big floods became less frequent. Indigenous peoples moved into the floodplain and began to farm more intensively.
Around 900 CE, people in the area began to cultivate maize and their population exploded, shown by the number and size of buildings and structures that sprang up in the region. By the mid-11th century these settlements had grown into a metropolis with a population of at least 10,000 in its central district.
Starting around 1200 CE, the climate became wetter again, and large floods returned with increasing frequency. Sediment cores show evidence of at least eight major flood events in the central Mississippi River valley. Layers above and below flood sediments allowed researchers to date the events.
Dr Sissel Schroeder, a Wisconsin archaeologist who collaborated in the research, says the return of the floods coincides closely with many signs of political instability and social upheaval: "We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia. There are shifts in craft production, house size and shape, and other signals in material production that indicate political, social, and economic changes that may be associated with social unrest."
Sam Munoz, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study, was originally looking for signs of prehistoric land use on ancient forests. He chose Cahokia because it was such a large site. At one point, tens of thousands of people lived in and around Cahokia. If there was anywhere that ancient peoples would have altered the landscape, it was around Cahokia.
Munoz adds that: "Beyond the Cahokia site, our results demonstrate how sensitive large rivers like the Mississippi are to climatic variability - and how dependent human societies are on rivers."
Edited from Popular Archaeology, Western Digs (4 May 2015)
18 May 2015
A Late Glacial family at Trollesgave, Denmark
On a sandy plateau near a lake in Denmark, Trollesgave preserves evidence of human occupation identified with the Bromme Culture - a Late Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer society that extended across present-day Denmark, southern Sweden, northern Germany, possibly parts of England and Poland, and likely in once-dry areas now covered by the Baltic and North Seas. Typical stone tool finds consist of flint flakes, blades, burins and scrapers. The people hunted reindeer, moose, wolverine, and beaver.
Re-examining stone artefacts previously recovered from Trollesgave, Randolph Donahue of the University of Bradford, and Anders Fischer of the Danish Agency of Culture, report that the Bromme had easy access to fishing, hunting, and large flint nodules of good quality for tool making.
The site dates to a latter part of the climatically mild Allerod biozone, circa 12,700 BP, making Trollesgave the only well-dated site from the Bromme Culture - the northernmost extension of Late Glacial human habitation currently known in northwestern Europe.
Excavations revealed a single hearth, a possible dwelling, and several flint workshops, all dated to the Late Palaeolithic. Recently, Donahue and Fischer microscopically examined a total of 307 stone tool artefacts, including end scrapers for processing hides, burins for working bone and antler, and tanged projectile points. Many of the worked stones were clearly the product of at least one experienced, skilled knapper, others of a person with intermediate abilities, and still others from an unskilled individual - presumably a child.
The researchers report that: "The predominance of dry hide scraping over fresh hide working indicates that the assemblage was produced by a residential group, and not a task group," concluding that this typical Bromme Culture settlement was the residence of a single family hunting unit.
Edited from Journal of Archaeological Science (February 2015), Popular Archaeology (10 May 2015)
Alaska researchers turn up 12,300-year-old artwork
At the edge of a spruce forest in eastern central Alaska, archaeologists have unearthed bone pendants that might be the first examples of artwork in northern North America.
Ice-age sites scattered throughout Interior Alaska are often hilltops or cliff sides used by hunters. Teams led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Ben Potter have expanded the Mead Site, a white spruce bench north of Delta Junction, 500 kilometres northeast of Anchorage. Within the site, researchers have found what they believe are tent outlines. Inside the oval of what 12,300 years ago was probably a hide-covered structure, a student found a tiny bone pendant with delicate crosshatching on the edge.
"We think it might be a pendant, an ornament, maybe worn near the face," Potter says. A second pair found at the site look like tiny fish tails. At the tapered end of each are broken remainders of a round opening, like the eye of a sewing needle.
No weapon fragments common to hunting and weapon-maintenance sites have been found within these living areas, but the team have found worked bone fragments, the size and shape of which suggest they were possibly on their way to becoming pendants. They have also found a brown bear jawbone with its pointy canine tooth removed.
Interior Alaska is a good place to find artefacts. For thousands of years, strong glacial winds have covered campsites with loess, a fine dust that flows out of glaciers, sealing off bone and other material that would rot if exposed to acid-rich soils. The flour-like dirt created layers showing that people used the same sites again and again.
Potter and others think that, at the time, this area of ice-age Alaska was colder and windier than today, with more poplar trees, grasses and sedges, and more game animals than are present now.
Potter and his colleagues are also finding bird bones, and fish bones, including those of salmon.
Edited from News Miner.com (9 May 2015)
Stone bracelet is oldest ever found
Discovered in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008, detailed analysis by Russian experts confirms an intricately made polished green stone bracelet dates to as long ago as 40,000 years.
Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says: "The bracelet is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green."
Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found inside the famous Denisova Cave, in the same layer as remains of some of the extinct species of humans who were genetically distinct from both Neanderthals and modern humans. Chlorite was not found near the cave, and is thought to have come from a distance of at least 200 kilometres. Inside the cave, 66 different types of mammals have been discovered, and 50 bird species. Further examination of the site found other artefacts dating back as much as 125,000 years.
The bracelet is in two fragments, 27 millimetres wide and 9 millimetres thick. The estimated diameter of the complete piece is 70 millimetres. Near one of the broken edges is a drilled hole with a diameter of about 8 millimetres.
According to Dr Derevyanko, "The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning. Next to the hole on the outer surface of the bracelet can be seen clearly a limited polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material. Scientists have suggested that it was a leather strap with some charm, and this charm was rather heavy. The location of the polished section made it possible to identify the top and bottom of the bracelet, and to establish that it was worn on the right hand."
Mikhail Shunkov, deputy director of the Institute, says: "In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things... symbolic items, such as jewellery - including the stone bracelet, as well as a ring carved out of marble.
While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone.
Edited from The Siberian Times (7 May 2015)
17 May 2015
More evidence found for Neanderthal adaptability
There is a cave in Northern Israel which is known locally as the Amud Cave. This cave was occupied at various times over the millennia but most notably during two Ice Ages, separated by 10,000 years. The caves have previously provided evidence of Neanderthal occupation, including one specimen which had the largest cranial capacity of any Neanderthal found so far.
An international group of researchers have been examining the remains of gazelle found in the caves, to gather more information on Neanderthal hunting patterns. The periods they researched covered two distinct Ice Ages. The first is known as Marine Isotope Stage 4 (69,000 - 127,000 BCE) and the second is known as Marine Isotope Stage 3 (55,000 - 68,000 BCE).
By analysis of tooth enamel (oxygen, carbon and strontium isotopes) they worked out that the gazelle had grazed on the higher slopes, above the cave, during the earlier Ice Age, which had been drier and so grazing was restricted to higher altitudes, but tat they had foraged much closer, on the lower slopes during the later one, when food was more abundant.
Team Leader, Gideon Hartman of the University of Connecticut (USA) is quoted as saying "This study shows that Neanderthals adjusted their hunting territories considerably in relation to varying environmental conditions over the course of occupation in the Amud Caves".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (7 May 2015)
The oldest toy in Europe?
In Southern Bulgaria there is a region known as the Rhodope Mountains, where is located the town of Yagnevo. For some time now a local businessman, Alexander Mitushov, has been collecting local artefacts and encouraging local residents to bring him anything they find. One of these finds is now the centre of considerable interest. The artefact in question is made of bronze and consists of a tripod of legs with a hollow top, with, what can only be described as a stork's head with in set carnelian eyes, freely rotating and nodding within the socket of the hollow top.
The artefact has been examined by local archaeologists and historians, including the renown Associate Professor Krasimir Leshtakov, from Sofia University. It has been dated at approximately 1,500 BCE and of Thracian design. It is believed it is possibly a child's toy but its exact use is not known.
Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov is quoted as saying "It is hard to say what exactly it was used for. It may have been a regular children's toy but it is also quite possible that this item had some kind of a function in the religious practices of the Ancient Thracians, for example, with clairvoyance. However, we have no way of knowing much about that because this period, the second millennium BCE, was a time devoid of the written word".
The Ancient Thracians were clearly active in that part of Bulgaria, as evidenced by other finds in the area, including a Late Bronze Age Thracian ritual knife. Alexander Mitushov is now funding a series of excavations, this coming summer, in the area around Yagnevo and Maglyane.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (5 May 2015)
Schoolboy spots bird carved on ancient stone
The phrases 'hidden in plain sight' and 'cannot see the wood for the trees' have been applied to many situations over time but never, it is thought, with respect to Neolithic stones before.
The Calderstones are thought to be the oldest monument in Liverpool and can be found in the Harthill Greenhouse at Calderstones Park in Allerton, Liverpool (England). The stones, originally situated at the junction of Druids Cross Lane and Menlove Avenue are said to be remnants of a burial chamber used for a local Neolithic community approximately 5,000 years ago.
A school party from Calderstones School in Liverpool were on a field trip to view the six ancient Calderstones, after which their school was named. A budding archaeologist, 13 year old Connor Hannaway, was taking some note when he dropped his pencil. As he picked it up he spotted the outline of what he thought was a bird, engraved into the stone. Connor mentioned this to their guide for the day, Richard MacDonald, Heritage Stories Maker at The Reader Organisation, but his question was dismissed out of hand. But Connor persisted in his questioning and eventually Richard MacDonald had to admit that he was right.
Richard said "I'd read all the academic papers and what the historians had said about the stones and no one mentioned a bird carving. When Connor asked me what the bird meant I just thought, it doesn't matter because we haven't got one! It just goes to show how the untrained eye can spot things experts miss" He went on to say "After Connor made the discovery I wanted to make sure the carvings hadn't been mentioned anywhere. I spoke to an expert in Bristol who was totally unaware of it and said it was remarkable. It just goes to show there are things out there still to be discovered".
Although the stones themselves date to approximately 2,800 BCE it is thought that the carvings were not added until 5th - 15th Centuries CE.
Edited from Liverpool echo (17 April 2015)
15 May 2015
The unique social structure of hunter-gatherers
Sex equality in residential decision-making explains the unique social structure of hunter-gatherers, a new University College London (UCL) study reveals.
Previous research has noted the low level of relatedness in hunter-gatherer bands. This is surprising because humans depend on close kin to raise offspring, so generally exhibit a strong preference for living close to parents, siblings and grandparents.
The new study is the first to demonstrate the relationship between sex equality in residential decision-making and group composition.
In work conducted over two years, researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project in UCL Anthropology lived among populations of hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines. They collected genealogical data on kinship relations, between-camp mobility and residence patterns by interviewing hundreds of people. Despite living in small communities, these hunter-gatherers were found to be living with a large number of individuals with whom they had no kinship ties.
The authors constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment. In the model, individuals populated an empty camp with their close kin - siblings, parents and children. When only one sex had influence over this process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, camp relatedness was high. However, group relatedness is much lower when both men and women have influence - as is the case among many hunter-gatherer societies, where families tend to alternate between moving to camps where husbands have close kin and camps where wives have close kin.
First author of the study, Mark Dyble (UCL Anthropology), said: "It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin. Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no-one ends up living with many kin at all."
Although hunter-gatherer societies are increasingly under pressure from external forces, they offer the closest extant examples of human lifestyles and social organisation in the past, offering important insights into human evolutionary history. Senior author, Dr Andrea Migliano (UCL Anthropology), said: "Sex equality suggests a scenario where unique human traits such as cooperation with unrelated individuals could have emerged in our evolutionary past".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (14 May 2015)
Homes burned deliberatley at Neolithic site in Bulgaria
Huge two-storey houses which were deliberately set on fire by their inhabitants have been unearthed at the 8,000-year-old Early Neolithic site excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists near the town of Mursalevo, Kocherinovo Municipality, in Southwest Bulgaria.
The prehistoric city at Mursalevo was first discovered in April 2014; the archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences have now unearthed further prehistoric homes dating to the 6th millenium BCE. These prehistoric houses were 7-8 meters tall, with two-sloped roofs, and a built-up area of between 60 and 100 square meters.
So far the experts have dug up some 60 prehistoric homes, made of wattle and clay and whose walls are about 20 cm thick. They can be seen in situ by June 28, 2015; ater that the archaeologists will dismantle the prehistoric houses to excavate the deeper layers beneath them before the beginning of the construction of a new highway.
"So far we have discovered over 4,000 artifacts which are enough to fill up a large museum. The settlement had an area of 20.000 square metres," explains Prof. Vasil Nikolov, lead archaeologist of the excavations.
The prehistoric city at Mursalevo has perfect urban planning which is said to be the only one of its kind on the entire Balkan Peninsula. It has three parallel main streets and several more narrow streets perpendicular to them. Thus, quarters, or neighborhoods, of 3-4 houses each were formed. According to the Bulgarian archaeologists, this setup requires a strong social organization and very good preliminary settlement planning.
One of the most interesting discoveries made by the Bulgarian archaeologists at Mursalevo is the evidence for the deliberate burning down of some of the houses in the prehistoric settlement. The archaeologists have discovered that the prehistoric inhabitants did not burn down the entire settlement but instead burned down only individual homes, and at different times.
The deliberate setting on fire is proven by the fact that the houses had been filled with firewood in advance. This practice was complicated because in that period firewood was scarce in Mursalevo's region, and the prehistoric people probably had to come together and make numerous group trips in order to harvest and bring back enough firewood, a clear indication that the burning down of the respective homes was not only deliberate but also carefully planned.
However, the arsons of the Early Neolithic homes in the 6th millennium BCE have turned out to be of help for modern-day archaeologists because the clay making up the house walls was 'additionally baked', and has thus been preserved in a very good condition.
Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture has requested from the lead archaeologists of the rescue excavations, Prof. Vasil Nikolov and Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov, to come up with a project for the future museum. They already have in mind an open-air museum where the remains of the Early Neolithic homes will be exhibited under glass domes.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (13 may 2015)
Iron Age artifacts found in a megalithic site in Spain
Discovered among the remains of a megalithic funerary structure on a hill in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, an exotic assemblage of Iron Age artifacts dated to between 1044 and 538 BCE has long raised questions for archaeologists regarding its origin and meaning.
The unusual, exotic characteristics of the objects and their spatial association suggest a single, one-time undisturbed deposit; it has been studied by Mercedes Murillo-Barroso of the University College London and colleagues.
"This hoard, found under the fallen orthostat of a megalithic structure built at least 2,000 years earlier, throws new light on long-distance exchange networks and the effect they could have had on the cultural identities and social relations of local Iberian Early Iron Age communities," stated Barroso and colleagues in their report.
At least some of the objects of the hoard, which consists of three silver rings, one of them a signet ring, three exotic quartz objects, a necklace of amber beads, a pendant, fine wires of silver, a bronze needle, two spindle whorls and two small iron bars, were made of materials that were sourced from locations as distant and diverse as the Baltic, western Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
The megalithic structure is the oldest of three structures found at what has been called the 'Palacio III' funerary complex. Each structure was built at a different time during the course of several millennia. The other two are described as a Chalcolithic period tholos featuring a corridor that connects to a circular chamber; and an Iron Age grave with cremated remains sealed with large horizontal stone slabs and covered with a tumulus of stones.
The researchers analyzed the objects found beneath the megalithic structure, which was dated to the Late Neolithic or Copper Age. "Various strands of evidence suggest that the Palacio III artefacts were made and used in the Early Iron Age (9th to 6th centuries BCE)," stated Barroso, "From a chronological point of view, the deposition of the hoard in what appears to be the oldest structure of the Palacio III funerary complex is clear evidence of the reuse of this structure many centuries after its original construction."
Given the placement and characteristics of the hoard, the researchers theorize that the assemblage was either deposited as an 'emergency hoard' by someone or a group attempting to secure or hide it temporarily under adverse circumstances for safekeeping until it could be later retrieved; or that it was deposited as a votive offering during ritualistic activity.
"This assemblage straddles several millennia, and references communities and resources of northern Europe, the western Mediterranean and the Near East. Its complexity is representative of the fluctuations in trade, power and identity across the Mediterranean in the 1st millennium BCE, and illustrative of the power of archaeological science to help us disentangle them," concluded Barroso.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (13 May 2015)
12 May 2015
Stone circle discovered on Dartmoor
The highest stone circle in southern England has been found on a moorland in Devon (England). Situated 525 metres (1,722ft) above sea level, the ancient site is the first stone circle to be found on Dartmoor for more than a century.
With a diameter of 34 metres (112ft), the circle consists of 30 recumbent stones, plus one more lying in a gap just outside the circle and now incorporated into an unfinished enclosure wall. The circle is the second largest on the moor and archaeologists believe it was probably part of a 'sacred arc' of circles around the north-eastern edge. Experts believe that there was some kind of planning and liaison between the communities living on Dartmoor in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Many stone circles were prodded and probed in Victorian times and before, so the opportunity to apply modern scientific methods to a previously unexamined one is particularly exciting. Jane Marchand, senior archaeologist at Dartmoor national park, said: "The discovery is providing an opportunity for investigation using the very latest archaeological scientific methods to provide long-awaited insights into the chronology, construction and the purpose of these most elusive and iconic of Dartmoor's prehistoric monuments."
The first stones were identified by the Dartmoor expert and stained glass artist Alan Endacott a few years ago. The stones probably came from the nearby Sittaford Tor itself and are of a fairly uniform size, suggesting they were carefully chosen. Packing stones visible around the bases of some of these indicate that they were originally upright. When upright the circle would have dominated the surrounding landscape and resembling in appearance the Grey Wethers double stone circle, which lies about half a mile away.
Marchand added: "Some preliminary radio carbon dating has already taken place on soil samples taken from directly beneath two of the stones. These are the first radiocarbon determinations from a Dartmoor stone circle. The dates have produced very similar results and calibrate to the end of the third millennium BC (4,000 years ago). This indicates the date by which the stones had fallen."
Although the full results of the geophysical surveys are not back yet, preliminary results have revealed a wide ditch running in a linear fashion just outside the eastern side of the circle. Further investigation is planned later this summer.
Edited from The Guardian (11 May 2015)
Traces of flowers on a Palaeolithic tomb are found
The burial of the so-called Red Lady, dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic, was discovered in El Mirón cave (Cantabria, Spain) in 2010. A research led by the UPV/EHU's Ikerbasque lecturer José Iriarte analysed the remains of fossilised pollen dating back more than 16,000 years ago and which appeared on the tomb.
"They put whole flowers on the tomb, but it has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing plants was to do with a ritual offering for the dead person, or whether El Mirón cave was inhabited between the Middle Palaeolithic and the Bronze Age and therefore contains a significant archaeological deposit."
The site had been known since 1903, but systematic archaeological investigations did not begin until 1996 and it was not until the 2010 campaign that a human burial site was found. The grave containing the osseous remains of a woman aged between 35 and 40 is located at the back of the cave in a small space between the wall and a block that has come away from the roof. What is more, there are various engravings on this block that could belong to the same period as the burial. The reddish colour of the bones and the sediment in which they lie point to the use of ochre as part of the interment. Hence the name 'Red Lady' given to the remains.
The researchers have studied the environmental conditions under which the burial took place and have analysed the pollen and spores preserved in the sediment together with the microfauna remains recovered. During the Lower Magdalenian age in which the burial took place the environmental conditions around the cave were very cold and fairly dry. This influenced the plant landscape, characterised by the sparse tree cover comprising pines and birches. Nevertheless, at the end of this period in the Magdalenian, there was an improvement in the climate which signified a slight increase in the tree-covered areas and the record of the hazelnut tree among its components.
At the sepulchral level in the cave and there only, the UPV/EHU researchers found a high concentration of pollen of plants of a single family, the so-called Chenopodiaceae. The appearance of part of this pollen grouped together with the absence of this taxon in other records of the same archaeological level from other parts of the cave suggest that they did not appear naturally reflecting the plant landscape around the cavity.
Having ruled out other possibilities for various reasons, "the most plausible hypothesis is that complete flowers were placed on the tomb," explained Uriarte. "It has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing these plants was to give the dead woman a ritual offering, or whether they fulfilled a more simple purpose linked, for example, to hygiene or cleansing," she added.
Edited from EurekAlert! (8 May 2015)