Ancient corpses discovered in Portugal could be the oldest mummies in the world at 8,000 years old
According to recent research, 8,000-year-old human bones discovered in Portugal may be the oldest evidence of mummification. Researchers studied photographs of 13 human skeletons discovered in Portugal’s Sado Valley in the early 1960s.
The findings were recently published in the European Journal of Archaeology.
Investigate ancient remains
(Photo: Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)
They were able to reconstruct the burial grounds of the remains, providing a “unique chance” to learn more about the 8,000-year-old burial procedures.
According to research, some remains were discovered buried in bent and compressed configurations, with the legs bent at the knees and placed in front of the torso.
History of mummies
According to the scientists, some individuals may have been mummified before burial for reasons “related to their curation and transit”.
The Chinchorro mummies of northern Chile, which date back 7,000 years, were the oldest mummies in the world.
According to previous research, the ancient Egyptians embalmed mummies up to 5,700 years ago.
According to a new study, the Sado Valley was the site of the earliest known mummification processes. In other words, the remains of the Sado Valley are considered the first known mummified human bodies.
However, the remains of the Sado Valley are no longer mummified as the soft tissues are no longer maintained and the bodies are skeletonized.
A mummy is a deceased person or animal whose soft tissues and organs have been preserved. The majority of surviving mummies are younger, ranging from a few hundred years old to 4,000 years old.
Archaeologists from Uppsala University and Linnaeus University in Sweden, and the University of Lisbon in Portugal undertook the new research.
The findings were based on photographs found at the home of Portuguese archaeologist Manuel Farinha dos Santos (1923-2001).
“Three rolls of film from the excavation of two Mesolithic burial sites in the Sado Valley in southwestern Portugal emerged a few years ago,” they reported.
“The two sites, Arapouco and Poças de S., are located in the state of Arapouco. Bento was excavated in the 1960s and again in the 1980s and 2010s, with most human graves investigated and published.
“However, images of burials discovered between 1960 and 1962 were missing and documentation was lacking.
“The recovery of these photos therefore gave a unique chance to enrich our understanding of Mesolithic funerary customs,” explains the researcher.
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An interesting mummification
The team describes the task of determining whether a body has been preserved by mummification when soft tissue is no longer evident as “difficult”.
Soft tissue, unlike bone, is rare in archaeological sites due to preservation challenges – especially in temperate and wetter regions like Europe.
.In the 1960s, the skeletal remains of 13 people were discovered in Mesolithic seashell middens – the remains of meals eaten long ago.
Shell middens are mostly discarded shells and bone and plant remains, ashes and charcoal. They also have indications of earlier hunting, gathering, and preparing food.
The research used a technique known as ‘archaeothanatology’, which combines observations of the geographic distribution of bones in the cemetery with knowledge of how the human body decays after death.
Even though thousands of years have passed, archaeologists can recreate how the corpse of the deceased was handled after death and buried.
Findings from human decomposition studies on mummification and burial at the Texas State University Forensic Anthropology Research Center were also used to inform archaeothanatology in this work.
Researchers discovered limb hyperflexion, which occurs when a joint is flexed beyond its usual range of motion.
“The corpse must have been buried in this hyperflexible posture for hyperflexible positions to be present in a burial with labile joint connections preserved in unstable poses,” the researchers add.
“Full-body hyperflexion associated with an absence of disarticulation or evidence of in situ bony movement…As a result, this is a strong taphonomic sign of mummified burial.”
There was also no “disarticulation” or amputation of a limb through a joint without bone fracture, in substantial parts of the skeleton, as well as rapid sediment filling around the bones.
Bones usually disarticulate at weak joints, such as the foot, upon decay, but joints are preserved in these cases.
This pattern of hyperflexion and lack of disarticulation, the researchers say, can be explained if the body was not deposited in the grave as a fresh corpse but rather as a mummified corpse in a dehydrated state.
Handle the corpse
The manipulation of the corpse during the mummification would have taken years, the body being gradually desiccated to maintain its “bodily integrity”.
He would also have been compressed into a desirable posture by simultaneously binding him with rope or bandages.
The body would have been easier to transport once the operation was over (it would have been more contracted and much lighter). He would have been buried with his appearance and anatomical integrity preserved.
Researchers find that the mummification of corpses was more common in prehistory than previously thought.
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