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http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=134648&CultureCode=en

Giant prehistoric elephant slaughtered by early humans

19 September 2013 Southampton, University of

 

Research by a University of Southampton archaeologist suggests that early humans, who lived thousands of years before Neanderthals, were able to work together in groups to hunt and slaughter animals as large as the prehistoric elephant.

 

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered a site containing remains of an extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) in 2003, in an area of land at Ebbsfleet in Kent, during the construction of the High Speed 1 rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London.

 

Investigation of the area was carried out with independent heritage organisation Oxford Archaeology, with the support of HS1 Ltd.

 

Excavation revealed a deep sequence of deposits containing the elephant remains, along with numerous flint tools and a range of other species such as; wild aurochs, extinct forms of rhinoceros and lion, Barbary macaque, beaver, rabbit, various forms of vole and shrew, and a diverse assemblage of snails. These remains confirm that the deposits date to a warm period of climate around 420,000 years ago, the so-called Hoxnian interglacial, when the climate was probably slightly warmer than the present day.

 

Since the excavation, which took place in 2004, Francis has been carrying out a detailed analysis of evidence recovered from the site, including 80 undisturbed flint artefacts found scattered around the elephant carcass and used to butcher it. The pre-historic elephant was twice the size of today's African variety and up to four times the weight of family car.

 

Dr Wenban-Smith comments: "Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably by a group of at least four individuals.

 

"Early hominins of this period would have depended on nutrition from large herbivores. The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging. Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.. We know hominins of this period had these, and an elephant skeleton with a wooden spear through its ribs was found at the site of Lehringen in Germany in 1948."

 

These early humans suffered local extinction in Northern Europe during the great ice age known as the Anglian glaciation 450,000 years ago, but re-established themselves as the climate grew warmer again in the following Hoxnian interglacial.

 

An ability to hunt large mammals, and in particular elephants, as suggested by the Ebbsfleet find, would go some way to explaining how these people then managed to push northwards again into what is now Britain. The flint artefacts of these pioneer settlers are of a characteristic type known as Clactonian, mostly comprising simple razor-sharp flakes that would have been ideal for cutting meat, sometimes with notches on them that would have helped cut through the tougher animal hide.

 

The discovery of this previously undisturbed Elephant grave site is unique in Britain - where only a handful of other elephant skeletons have been found and none of which have produced similar evidence of human exploitation.

 

Dr Wenban-Smith explains the Ebbsfleet area would have been very different from today: "Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited.

 

"Analysis of these deposits show they lived at a time of peak interglacial warmth, when the Ebbsfleet Valley was a lush, densely wooded tributary of the Thames, containing a quiet, almost stagnant swamp."

 

The layer of earth containing the elephant remains and flints is overlain by a higher level of sediment, rich in so-called Acheulian tool types - handaxes of various forms from later in the same interglacial. Controversy surrounds whether or not these represent a later wave of colonisation of Britain, or whether the Clactonians themselves evolved a more sophisticated tool-kit as they developed a more sustained occupation.

 

http://oxfordarchaeology.com/publications/oasouth-publications/253-the-ebbsfleet-elephant

The Ebbsfleet Elephant

 

This is the final volume in the monograph series resulting from archaeological excavations in the Ebbsfleet Valley in advance of High Speed 1 and the Ebbsfleet International station. It provides the full account of the discovery, excavation and subsequent analysis of rich and deeply buried archaeological horizons found late in the construction programme, dating to early in the Palaeolithic and associated with the Hoxnian interglacial between about 425,000 and 375,000 years ago.

 

The highlight of this work was recovery of the remains of an extinct straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, surrounded by the undisturbed scatter of flint tools used for its butchery, made and abandoned at the spot. Rich fossil palaeo-environmental remains provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment, showing that the elephant lived and died at a time of peak interglacial warmth, when the Ebbsfleet Valley was a lush, densely-wooded tributary of the Thames, containing a quiet, almost stagnant swamp. The abundant lithic remains from the elephant horizon are attributable to the Clactonian industrial tradition, after Clacton-on-Sea, Essex where similar remains have been found. The evidence from this new site provides the best record yet of Clactonian remains from the Hoxnian, establishing that Britain was re-settled (after local extinction due to the great Anglian glaciation) by hominins who did not make handaxes, generally the typical artefact of the earlier Palaeolithic.

 

The elephant horizon is overlain by a younger deposit rich in handaxes of various forms, including sharply pointed specimens, bluntly pointed sub-cordates and twisted ovates. Possible interpretations for this sequence of greatly contrasting lithic industries are discussed in the volume.

 

This monograph provides a fascinating case-study of Palaeolithic excavation methods, and how archaeological work is carried out in conjunction with large engineering developments such as High Speed 1.

 

The volume is available to purchase from Oxbow Books.

 

http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=134604&CultureCode=en

New research project to uncover the history of chickens

18 September 2013 Bournemouth University

 

A new research project looking at the history of chickens is hoping to shed light on how the relationship between people and chickens has developed over the last 8,000 years.

 

The project will see researchers dive into archaeological records to investigate the history of the world’s most widely established livestock species, which is descended from the wild jungle fowl of SE Asia.

 

Researchers from Bournemouth University, as well as the Universities of Durham, Nottingham, Leicester, Roehampton and York, will be examining when and how rapidly domesticated chickens spread across Europe and the history of their exploitation for meat and eggs. The project will also investigate the ancient and modern cultural significance of the birds in, for example, religious rituals and cockfighting. Research will include metrical and DNA analysis of modern and ancient chicken bones to trace the development of different breeds.

 

Principal Investigator for the project, Bournemouth University’s Dr Mark Maltby said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to work with a team of high international esteem drawn from a wide range of disciplines that includes genetics, cultural anthropology, history and archaeological science. We are united by our mutual research interests in how chickens and people have interacted in the past and the present.”

 

The results of the research will form the basis a series of exhibitions in museums and other venues throughout the UK making up ‘The Chicken Trail’ that will tell the story of the chicken’s domestication in Europe and there are also plans to display some of the research findings in butchers shops.

 

The project, entitled “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions”, was made possible with the help of a £1.94 million grant from the AHRC under the Science In Culture Awards Large Grants call.  The project will also involve collaboration with academic colleagues across Europe and with poultry breeders and other interested members of the public.

 

Work is due to begin in January 2014 and the research will be completed in 2017 – coinciding with The Chinese Year of the Rooster.  The work is supported by an interactive research network “The Chicken Coop” and the latest information and breaking news about the research can be found at www.chickenco-op.net.

 

http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/News/Pages/Nine-Large-Grants-announced-under-AHRC-themes.aspx

 

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/june-2013/article/first-ever-sphinx-of-egyptian-king-found-in-israel

First-Ever Sphinx of Egyptian King Found in Israel

Rare and only find of part of a sphinx naming the pharaoh Menkaure has been unearthed at the Canaanite site of Hazor.

Thu, Sep 19, 2013

 

It was a once-in-a-lifetime find for Israeli archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who also co-directs excavations at the world-renowned site of Hazor in northern Israel. While digging at this ancient Canaanite location during the summer of 2013, he and his excavation team unearthed a surprising find -- beautifully carved paws of what was once a complete stone Egyptian sphinx statue. It was discovered near the entrance of the remains of an ancient city palace in a destruction layer dated to the 13th century B.C.

"This is of extreme importance from many points of view,' said Ben-Tor, "since it is the only sphinx of this king known in the world -- even in Egypt. It is also the only monumental piece of Egyptian sculpture found anywhere in the Levant."

The Levant is the region of the eastern Mediterranean stretching between Anatolia and Egypt. Today it includes the modern states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Cyprus and parts of southern Turkey.  Although many ancient Egyptian finds, including architecture, have been unearthed in archaeological excavations throughout the region, no monumental sculpture attributable to the Egyptians have been recovered in this region outside of Egypt.

Inscribed in hieroglyphic in the stone between the paws of the large fragment was the name of the Egyptian Old Kingdom 4th dynasty pharaoh Menkaure (c. 2500 BC), also known by his Hellenized name as Mykerinos. Menkaure is thought to be the phaaraoh responsible for the construction of the smallest of the three great pyramids at Giza.

 

What was the sphinx, or at least this portion of it, doing at Hazor?

"Maybe this was a gift which the Egyptian king sent to the local [Canaanite] king of Hazor. Maybe. To prove it? Impossible," said Ben-Tor.

Historically, Hazor was likely the largest of the ancient Canaanite cities, and for a time was among the largest cities of the Levant. Today, the archaeological remains encompass 200 acres. Its population in the second millennium BC is estimated to have been about 20,000 people, and was strategically located on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon, making it a dominant economic and trading power in the region. Dig co-directors Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman lead the current excavations, which have thus far revealed no less than 21 superimposed cities, including temples, fortifications and a huge water system.

The archaeologists estimate that the complete sphinx was about one meter tall, weighing half a ton. Will they find the rest of it? That's a goal of the continuing excavations.

Anyone interested in participating in the Hazor excavations may obtain more information about the site and how to apply at http://hazor.huji.ac.il/.

 

http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Archaeological-dig-seeks-evidence-islanders/story-19812420-detail/story.html#axzz2feoliu1R

Archaeological dig seeks evidence of the very first islanders' arrival

Sunday, September 22, 2013

 

ISLANDS perhaps better known for their Bronze Age relics are revealing traces of an earlier civilisation.

A settlement being unearthed on St Martin's represents "the most promising neolithic site in Scilly", according to Dr Duncan Garrow of Liverpool University, a specialist in the prehistory of North- West Europe.

Along with maritime archaeologist Dr Fraser Sturt of Southampton University and a ten-strong team, supplemented by locals, he is exploring how Neolithic man arrived on the islands some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.

After identifying a possible Mesolithic or Neolithic occupation site at St Martin's Old Quay last year, based on finds of pottery and flint tools, Dr Garrow is now conducting a dig in the area, and called it the most promising site in Scilly.

 

It is part of a Stepping Stones project investigating a northward migration from Europe via seaways and islands in which nomadic hunter-gatherers became settled farmers.

Dr Garrow and Mr Sturt gave a talk to a large audience at the islands' museum and on Saturday are due to host an open day at the dig.

"We ended up at Old Quay because material had been found there, as well as finds gathered there by local people," said Dr Garrow, adding that they were very pleased with what had been found so far, halfway through a four-week dig, "and have really enhanced the material record by finding so much, in particular flint".

They had also found pottery, a field boundary ditch of probable Bronze Age or Iron Age date and a Neolithic pit with a ritual deposit, all from only 2m by 2m test pits. "By opening larger areas we shall see more," said Dr Garrow, adding that they would like to find more features such as pits, post-holes, stone walls or buildings, which would be rare: "That might emerge in the new few days if we're lucky!"

Island archaeologist Katherine Sawyers said after a flurry of archaeological interest in the mid-20th century Scilly had "gone off the radar" in recent years. "It's good to see cutting-edge research happening in the islands as there's such a wealth of sites of antiquity," she said.

 

Read more: http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Archaeological-dig-seeks-evidence-islanders/story-19812420-detail/story.html#ixzz2fepe1erh

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http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk/PICTURES-Digging-clues-Hurlers-crystal-path/story-19831716-detail/story.html#axzz2fkDs2uFC

Digging for clues on Hurlers' crystal path

Monday, September 23, 2013

By Simon Parker, Living Cornwall Editor

 

Hundreds of people flocked to an ancient monument on Bodmin Moor at the weekend as archaeologists revealed what they believe to be a "unique" stone pathway.

The 4,000-year-old feature, which has been uncovered for the first time in 75 years, has attracted enormous interest across the region.

 

A team from Cornwall's Historic Environment department has spent the past week at the Hurlers stone circles near Minions carefully uncovering a monument believed to be the only one of its kind in the British Isles. Known variously as a "stone pavement" or "crystal causeway", experts are now certain the 4ft wide pathway linking two circles is an integral part of the site's ceremonial architecture.

First excavated in 1938 by the Ministry of Works, under the direction of the grandly titled Charles Kenneth Croft Andrew and C A Ralegh Radford, it was at that time described as a "processional pathway".

 

Dig director James Gossip said several tangible clues to the Bronze Age people who built it have turned up during the excavation, including two flint tools.

He said the wider significance and exact date of the enigmatic structure will only be known after tests are carried out on material taken from beneath it. Geomorphologists and archaeological scientists from Bristol University have taken samples for analysis.

"What they will be looking for is evidence of burnt material, such as seeds, sealed beneath the pavement," said James. "This will be radio carbon dated to give a pretty accurate time of its construction and help to verify our assumption that this is a 4,000-year-old structure contemporary with the circles."

The dig was part of a wider Heritage Lottery-funded project called Mapping The Sun, organised by Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project. As well as the dig, there have been astronomy workshops led by Brian Sheen from Roseland Observatory, a sunrise equinox walk, a geophysical survey, a display of Bronze Age artefacts and an exhibition of archive photographs.

Lead archaeologist Jacky Nowakowski said she had been delighted by the level of community support. She said: "We have all been overwhelmed by the interest shown locally. Our project will help to inform the community about the great value of this unique monument.

"We have already found two prehistoric flint tools in amongst the stones and this has given us a great deal of confidence about how well preserved it is and also the fact that it is related to the two circles on either side.

"We still don't know exactly what it is, but by carrying out this work we may discover more about this extremely enigmatic site."

The project's findings are due to be published in a report by the end of the year.

Anyone who would like to see one of Cornwall's most intriguing historical treasures before it is reburied will need to be quick because it is due to be reburied tomorrow.

For more information visit caradonhill.org.uk

 

Read more: http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk/PICTURES-Digging-clues-Hurlers-crystal-path/story-19831716-detail/story.html#ixzz2fkFwhs8s

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-23974518

Flag Fen Bronze Age boats older than was first thought

8 September 2013 Last updated at 09:12

 

Eight Bronze Age boats discovered in a deep Cambridgeshire quarry are much older than it was first thought, carbon-dating research has revealed.

 

The vessels, found by archaeologists at Must Farm near Peterborough in 2011, have now been dated to about 1500 BC, 200 years older than was first thought.

 

Samples taken during the conservation process have revealed the boats to be made from oak, lime and field maple.

 

The vessels are undergoing a two-year preservation programme at Flag Fen.

 

The wooden craft are being sprayed with a special wax to stop the timbers from degrading, the same technique that was applied to the 16th Century Mary Rose warship.

 

It is hoped the process will reveal more about the Must Farm log boats, one of which is almost 30ft (9m) long.

 

The boats are housed in a cold store to prevent bacteria damaging the timber

Mark Knight, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said: "We've been carbon dating the sediment the boats were found in to try and create a detailed chronology of the river channel that once ran from the Midlands to the North Sea.

 

"This will tell us when each of the boats were disposed of by the people of the time.

 

"What we're now working on is carbon dating the actual boats which will give us an idea of when they were constructed.

 

"This will then tell us how long they were in use and gives us a much greater depth to the history of the area."

 

Visitors to Flag Fen will be able to watch conservators at work, with the aim of eventually putting the boats on public display in glass cabinets.

 

Mr Knight said: "As we lack any texts from the time to tell us what was going on, the boats help us to better understand the levels of craftsmanship and technical sophistication of the time.

 

"In the future we'll be judged by the technology we leave behind and these boats are a similar marker for the people of the Bronze Age."

 

http://www.thelocal.no/20130917/iron-age-horse-found-as-norway-glacier-melts

Iron age horse found as Norway glacier melts

Published: 17 Sep 2013 12:30 GMT+02:00 | Print version

Updated: 17 Sep 2013 12:30 GMT+02:00

 

The remains of an iron age horse has been found in a glacier two thousand metres up in the mountains of Norway, one of the first times such an animal has been found at such altitude.

 

"It shows that they were using horses for transport in the high alpine zone, in areas where we were quite surprised to find them,"  Lars Pilø, the head of snow archeology at Oppland council told The Local.

 

The find, which was made in August, is the latest of a string of discoveries archeologists have been making around the world, as global warming melts glaciers and ice sheets, leaving perfectly preserved relics behind.

 

"Even though the finds up there are fantastic, the background to the science is very serious," Pilø said. "Norwegian climate experts tell us that all the ice in the Norwegian high mountains will be gone by the end of this century, and of course that also adds an urgency to the work that we're doing."

 

Pilø, who is Danish, and his team have been concentrating their research around the Lendbreen glacier near Lillehammer, which he believes was used both for hunting and as a short cut over the mountains from the late iron-age to the early medieval period.

 

"When it gets hot in the summer, the reindeer will get pestered by horseflies, and when they get horseflies they move up to the ice, which made the ice excellent hunting grounds," he explained.

 

"The other reason that we have many finds is that people wold also cross the glaciers as a transport route over the mountains. You can imagine, if people went over ten times a year and dropped one thing every time, that adds up to a lot of items."

 

He said the horse whose bones they discovered was probably used to carry reindeer carcasses back off the mountains to the villages below.

 

The team have previously found perfectly preserved 1000-year-old horse manure, and horse shoes dropped in the ice. Earlier this year, they made headlines across the world when they found a 1,700-year-old woollen tunic, fully intact apart from the two patches sewed into it by its iron age owner.

 

Pilø said it was important to keep the melting ice under constant observation as once an artefact defrosts, the team have just days to begin preserving it.

 

"When they're in the ice, they're in the deep freezer, so they're incredibly well preserved. It's like they've been in a time machine," he explained. "But once they're out in the open the clock starts ticking really fast. We have to be there when they come out."

 

Richard Orange (richard.orange@thelocal.com)

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130910094946.htm

Archaeologists Have Excavated Well-Preserved Roman Soldier's Chain Mail

Sep. 10, 2013

 

Archaeologists from Freie Universität Berlin made a spectacular discovery in their excavations of a Roman-Germanic battlefield at the Harzhorn in Lower Saxony. While exploring the area near Kalefeld in the Northeim district north of Göttingen, the researchers, headed by Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer, found the chain mail of a Roman soldier from the Third Century AD. It was the first time that such a well-preserved piece of body armor was excavated on a Roman-Germanic battlefield. This piece of equipment, worn on the body, made it possible to reconstruct an individual story in the battle, a close-up image of the war, said Michael Meyer, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Freie Universität Berlin.

 

The chain mail, which was found in several fragments, consists of thousands of small chain links with a diameter of about six millimeters. The iron in the rings, however, is largely decomposed. Chain mail was worn in battle by Roman soldiers of various ranks. Germanic warriors usually waived this protection; however, in Germanic burial grounds, remains of those laboriously produced armor can often be found. In this case, not only the object itself was an unusual find, but also the position in which it was found. It was located directly on the edge of the battlefield with probably the most intense combat action that could be detected on the Harzhorn hill.

"This discovery represents something fundamentally new for the Battle at the Harzhorn," said Michael Meyer. "This is the first time that an almost complete part of personal armor was found." Meyer said it is possible that the chain mail was stripped from a wounded Roman soldier by his comrades because they wanted to dress his wounds and carry him away from the battle zone. It is conceivable that they left the chain mail behind. However, it is also conceivable that it was specifically laid down in a certain place by Germanic soldiers after the fighting was over, as an indication that this location played a special role in the fighting.

The excavations this year were done on the edges of the main battle zones. The archaeologists wanted to ascertain how far the battles extended and whether different fighting locations could be identified that belong together or whether they were all isolated clashes. This Roman-Germanic battlefield is one of the best preserved sites of the Roman-Germanic conflict. Its discovery in 2008 was a sensation because until then it had been assumed that after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (Varusschlacht in German) in 9 AD there was no further Roman military presence in Germania. The site of the battle in the 3rd century has been studied since 2008 Michael Meyer, the head of the excavation, and his team, in cooperation with the state Department of Archaeology in Lower Saxony (Niedersächsischer Denkmalpflege) and the archaeologists of the district of Northeim.

 

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/discovery-of-sacred-roman-well-amazes-archaeology-team-1-5516258

Discovery of sacred Roman well amazes archaeology team

by Jeff Travis

jeff.travis@thenews.co.uk

Published on the 21 September 2013 13:00

 

IT’S the most significant archaeological discovery in the Portsmouth area for many years.

 

Buried a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant, archaeologists stumbled upon a Roman well filled with coins and a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

 

Perhaps most intriguing was the discovery of eight dog skeletons at the bottom of the well.

 

Experts believe the dogs, which were worshipped in some ancient religions, may have been dropped down the ‘sacred well’ as a sacrifice to the gods.

 

The excavation was done at Homewell House, a Georgian property behind St Faith’s Church that is undergoing renovation.

 

Dr Andy Russel, from Southampton Archaeology Unit, told The News: ‘I would say it’s a pretty amazing find.

 

‘We have done a few sites in Havant before and found Roman bits and pieces but nothing on this scale of a beautifully constructed well with coins, a ring and this strange deposit of dogs in it.

 

‘I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing.’

 

The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.

 

Dr Russel added: ‘We have found post holes where people have put up buildings in the posts. There’s no sign of stone buildings. This is not a Fishbourne Roman Palace. Wooden buildings probably made up the settlement.’

 

The dogs showed wounds that had healed, indicating they may have been used for dog fighting.

 

Archaeologists believe the ring may have been dropped down the well by a Roman sailor, perhaps praying for safe passage home on the stormy seas.

 

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/19/viking-slaves-masters/2836903/

Odd tale of headless Norse men: Slaves buried with the rich

Discovery raises the possibility that Viking slaves were buried with their masters, sometimes without their heads.

Traci Watson, Special for USA TODAY 2:22 p.m. EDT September 19, 2013

 

About 1,000 to 1,200 years ago, a Viking man still in his 20s was laid to rest on a craggy island in the Norwegian Sea. A new analysis of his skeleton and others buried nearby — several without their heads — suggests a haunting possibility: Some of the dead may have been slaves killed to lie in the grave with their masters.

 

Slavery was widespread in the Viking world, and scientists have found other Viking graves that include the remains of slaves sacrificed as "grave goods" and buried with their masters, a custom also practiced in ancient China and elsewhere. But the newly analyzed site is one of a very few Viking burials to include more than one slave, says the University of Oslo's Elise Naumann, a Ph.D. student in archaeology who led the research.

 

"These are people who had values very different from our own," says Naumann, whose study was published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science last week. "There were probably a very few people who were the most privileged, and many people who suffered."

 

The skeletons were found in the 1980s by a farmer working the fields. Documentation of the discovery is sparse, and the excavations did not involve archaeologists. But from the start, the researchers suspected they were onto something unusual. At least three of the seven skeletons divided among three graves were apparently buried without their skulls — a mark of disrespect seen at other slave burial sites. The scientists believe that every intact body was probably buried with one or perhaps two headless bodies.

 

To understand the relationship between those interred together, the scientists measured the skeletons' ratios of certain types of nitrogen and carbon atoms that depend on diet. The analysis can't pinpoint the foods eaten by the dead, but the data did show that the people buried with their heads had eaten lots of land-based protein, such as milk or beef. The decapitated people, however, had diets rich in seafood, as did a dog buried at the site.

 

The differences in diet point to a significant gap in social status between those buried with and without their heads, Naumann says. Perhaps those who dined on meat or dairy products were rich or powerful; perhaps they were a religious elite. A DNA analysis showed that most of those buried in graves together probably weren't close kin, at least through their mothers, the researchers say. The mistreatment of the bodies, the DNA results and the dietary differences led the scientists to think that the headless bodies are most likely slaves who met premature ends to be interred with their masters.

 

The paper is an interesting combination of archaeology and molecular studies, says Jette Arneborg of the National Museum of Denmark, and it raises new questions about social structure in the region. But Arneborg says via e-mail that diet "does not give an unequivocal answer on social status." Naumann concedes that the chemical analysis can't detect all dietary differences, but she says those buried together certainly ate differently, indicating clear differences in their community standing — differences that made the Viking world very different from today's egalitarian Scandinavia.

 

"It must've been a rough society," Naumann says. "I often think I'm grateful that I didn't live in that time myself."