Much like in ancient Egypt, prehistoric Britain also appeared to had been a sanctuary for century-preserved dead bodies, as a new study found that Britons of the Bronze Age used the process of mummification on their dead. Through this new discovery, archeologists are said to be provided with more vital information regarding the societal culture of ancient Britain.
For the study, Dr. Tom Booth from Sheffield University and his colleagues from Manchester University and University College London unearthed skeletons from various locations including Dorset, the Western Isles of Scotland, Cambridge, Kent and Teesside, which served as burial grounds between 2200 to 750 BC.
The researchers then analyzed the specimens under a microscope and came up with comparative data that revealed the differences between the collated bones and the bones from a Yemen cave that have been confirmed to be mummified. They specifically investigated the manner with which bacteria in the different UK sites have decayed the recently-collected bones and analyzed it opposite of the mummified remains, which were preserved in an Ireland bog.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Antiquity, showed that Britons used preservation methods that were described to be "exotic, bizarre and novel." Among the procedures that were probably utilized include bandage wrapping, smoking techniques, removing internal organs and burying them in peat bogs to preserve the body and prevent it from decaying.
The bodies no longer looked like it was mummified when the team of experts found it because of the significantly long time that had passed. Booth and his colleagues were only able to raise the possibility of mummification after intricate scientific analysis of the bone surfaces.
In the said analysis, the researchers also found that the surface of the remains had very low amounts of bacterial tunnelling, which suggests that the gut bacteria of the dead were purposely killed right after the person's death - a procedure known to be involved in the mummification process.
Booth that their group had discovered that through the help microscopic bone studies, archaeologists can identify if a skeleton had been subjected to mummification, regardless if it was laid in a location that was not conducive to the said preservation process. "It's possible that our method may allow us to identify further ancient cultures that mummified their dead," he added.
The concrete reason for such practices have not yet been determined. However, according to one assumption, the Britons may have done the practice to have something they could call as their aspect of expertise as the Bronze Age was known to had been a period of competitive battle for agricultural lands.
In the future, the researchers plan to analyze 30 more skeletons from Wales, Scotland and Wiltshire.
Photo: Sunny Lapin | Flickr