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30 June 2015
Iron Age warrior lived with arrowhead in spine

A horrific spinal injury caused by a bronze arrowhead didn't immediately kill an Iron Age warrior, who survived long enough for his bone to heal around the metal point, a new study of his burial in central Kazakhstan finds.
     "This found individual was extremely lucky to survive," said study researcher Svetlana Svyatko, a research fellow in the school of geography, archaeology and paleoecology at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland. "It's hard to get a vertebral wound without damaging the main blood vessels, which would have resulted in an immediate death."
     The male warrior was likely between 25 and 45 years old, and stood 174cm in height, which was tall considering that his people stood an average of 165cm in height, the researchers said. They found his grave, an elaborate burial mound called a 'kurgan,' after getting a tip from local people who live in the area.
     The researchers have studied the area in central Kazakhstan for more than 20 years. Their work has shed light on the area's culture and the emergence of the powerful Scythians (also known as the Saka), a population of fierce nomads who lived on the central Eurasian steppes from about the eighth century BCE to about the second century CE, said study researcher Arman Beisenov, the head of prehistoric archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in Kazakhstan.
     The kurgan was likely no more than 2m high and about 22.5m in diameter when built, Beisenov said. However, evidence suggests that robbers plundered the site in ancient times, and that local people reused much of its soil and stones for housing in the 1960s and 1970s, he said. The grave suggests the individual belonged to the early Saka nomadic aristocracy, but the plundered kurgan held only a few scattered bones, including ribs, fibulae (lower-leg bones) and a vertebra. Radiocarbon dating suggests the individual lived sometime between the eighth and sixth centuries BCE.
     A close look at the man's bones revealed a bronze arrowhead - made of copper, tin, and traces of lead and iron - lodged in one of his vertebrae. The researchers also found a rib with a healed fracture, but it's unclear whether the man received these injuries at the same time as the arrow wound, the researchers said. It's also unclear how long he survived following his injuries, they said.
     Computed tomography (CT) scans showed that the arrowhead, measuring 5.6cm long, caused more than just a flesh wound. In fact, it "teaches us is the power of the human body to heal," said Aleksey Shitvov, a research team assistant at Queen's University Belfast who works with the group, but wasn't among the study's authors.

Edited from LiveScience (29 June 2015)

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