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14 December 2016
Clues to life of an Orcadian Iron Age man

A human jaw with two teeth was discovered centrally placed in a large, carved whalebone vertebra within the ruins of a broch earlier this year by researchers from The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute (Scotland), at an Iron Age site on Orkney called The Cairns, at South Ronaldsay. Brochs, also known as Atlantic roundhouses, were fortified homes built in the Scottish islands and Highlands.
     Analyses show the jaw belonged to a man who died when he was 50 years of age or older sometime between 120 CE and 240 CE, in the latter part of the Scottish Atlantic Middle Iron Age. Whereas most human remains from the Middle Iron Age tend to show very low levels of fish proteins even in coastal areas, this man's diet appears to have been unusually rich in fish.
     The condition of his teeth suggest he led an active working life. The jawbone had grown over most of the sockets of the missing teeth showing that these teeth had been lost during life, while the surviving two were "quite substantially worn down". His tooth loss may have been brought about partly through the man using his mouth in the manner of a third hand, to tightly clamp materials, such as grasses and straw, while working on them with his hands, perhaps in making plant-fibre items such as bags and containers.
     Given the ritualistic style of his burial, archaeologists suggest that he may have been a person of some importance.
     Martin Carruthers, site director and The Cairns and Masters Programme Leader at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, said: "It may not be pushing this line of consideration too far to suggest the possibility that it was his death that occasioned the final abandonment and decommissioning of the broch. "There are plenty of examples from different cultures around the world, where the death of an important person, who had a significant association with a particular house, resulted in the end of that entire house as well."
     Further analyses of the man's remains are planned.

Edited from BBC News (6 December 2016)

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