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9 October 2011
Found Amsicora: the oldest Sardinian

Ancient human remains have been discovered at Pistoccu, in Marina di Arbus, a few meters from the shoreline of the Costa Verde, in south-western Sardinia (Italy). Professor Rita Melis, geoarchaeologist of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cagliari, said that it may be the "oldest human found in Sardinia dated back to the transition period between the Mesolithic and Neolithic," that is between 10,000 and 8,200 years ago.
     It has been nicknamed 'Amsicora', like an historical character still alive in the Sardinian culture and known because of his strong opposition to the Roman power. The discovery was made after a short excavation campaign, thanks to the tenacity of Rita Melis and her colleague Margherita Mussi of the Department of Classical Studies, University La Sapienza of Rome, who studied the oldest population of Sardinia for more than 15 years.
     The site was already known to archaeologists because in 1985 a first series of human remains was found in a sandstone wall collapsed after a storm. At the time, it was the Neapolis Archaeological Group of Guspini who recovered the ancient skeleton of a man, about 40 year old, who was nicknamed Beniamino, since then kept in Guspini. Beniamino was covered with red ocher, and was found along with a large Trion shell, and bone fragments of Prolagus sardus, a small rodent now extinct. Problems due to the 'unscientific' recovery and subsequent storage caused irreparable damage to the Beniamino remains: "It was not possible to date it with C14 because of the lack of collagen," says Rita Melis.
     During the 2007 excavation campaign, the archaeologists discovered other human remains at the site; samples sent to the NSF Laboratory of the University of Tucson (Arizona, USA) allowed scientists to date the human bones back to 8400 years ago. This spring, Melis and Mussi began a new excavation, followed by another dig this week. "Immediately, after retrieving the shells of a burial offering we realized there was something important," Melis says, "And we have directed our attention to a particular spot. So we discovered the part of a human skeleton," she added. "We need to examine whether it is a traditional burial or a deposition of one individual left in a cave with a series of burial offerings," Margherita Mussi said.
     The two scientists are carrying out a research on paleoenvironmental and climatic changes of Sardinia and the population growth of the Mediterranean islands during the Holocene. "This discovery provides insight into the first people of Sardinia, an island far from the continent that, unlike Sicily, is not easily accessible," Melis concluded.

Edited from Adnkronos (9 October 2011)

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