Saturday, June 13, 2015

ARCHAEOLOGISTS EXPLAIN HOW THEY STUDIED A DANISH BRONZE AGE FEMALE FIND WITH NEW METHODS -- BIO-CHEMICALS

We investigated the remarkable remains of the iconic Egtved Girl, who belongs to an impressive group of Bronze Age oak coffin burials from Denmark that were placed in monumental elite burial barrows dated to 1500-1100 BC. Excavations in 1921, close to the village of Egtved in Denmark revealed the partially preserved remains of a high status, fully dressed female of approximately 16 to 18 years of age. Dendrochronological analysis indicates that she was buried in an oak coffin approximately 3,400 years ago. Hair, tooth enamel, nails, and parts of the brain and skin are still
preserved, but no bones survived, most likely due to their dissolution in the partially acidic waterlogged environment prevailing within the oak coffin. A small container with some cremated skeletal remains of a 5 to 6-year-old child was placed by her head.

Ancient human mobility at the individual level is conventionally studied by the diverse application of suitable techniques (e.g. aDNA, radiogenic strontium isotopes, as well as oxygen and lead isotopes) to either hard and/or soft tissues. However, the limited preservation of coexisting hard and soft human tissues hampers the possibilities of investigating high-resolution diachronic mobility periods in the life of a single individual. Here, we present the results of a multidisciplinary study of an exceptionally well preserved circa 3.400-year old Danish Bronze Age female find, known as the Egtved Girl.

We applied biomolecular, biochemical and geochemical analyses to reconstruct her mobility and diet. We demonstrate that she originated from a place outside present day Denmark (the island of Bornholm excluded), and that she traveled back and forth over large distances during the final months of her life, while consuming a terrestrial diet with intervals of reduced protein intake. We also provide evidence that all her garments were made of non-locally produced wool.

Our study advocates the huge potential of combining biomolecular and biogeochemical provenance tracer analyses to
hard and soft tissues of a single ancient individual for the reconstruction of high resolution human mobility.Recent advances in tracing techniques at the individual level provide us with methodologies to map individual mobility during different life stages 1–14. However, the limited preservation of coexisting hard and soft human tissues often impedes the diachronic investigation of a single individual.
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Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.M.F. (email: Karin.M.Frei@natmus.dk)

Published in Scientific Reports: 21 May 2015

www.nature.com/scientificreports/

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