Researchers have successfully unraveled the mystery surrounding a 2,000-year-old grave located on the Isles of Scilly. This new research has sparked intriguing inquiries into warfare during Britain’s iron age.
For many years, archaeologists have been perplexed about the gender of the individual laid to rest within the stone-lined burial chamber on Bryher, which was uncovered back in 1999, according to The Guardian.
During the excavations, researchers uncovered some items buried alongside the individual in the grave. These items included a sword in a copper alloy scabbard and a shield, which are typically associated with men.
However, there were also a brooch and a bronze mirror adorned with a sun disc motif, items that are usually linked to women. This combination of a mirror and sword in the same grave is unparalleled in iron age western Europe, making this discovery truly unique.
Isles of Scilly remains are of a female warrior
A recent scientific study led by Historic England has conclusively identified the remains in the grave as belonging to a woman. This significant discovery could offer valuable insights into the role of female warriors during a time when inter-community violence was believed to be commonplace.
Earlier attempts to determine the individual’s sex using conventional methods like DNA analysis were unsuccessful.
The bones had deteriorated over time, leaving behind only a dark soil stain where the body had rested. The excavation managed to recover about 150g of small bone fragments and teeth, which was all that remained of the skeleton.
Due to scientific progress, especially the creation of an advanced technique at the University of California, Davis, researchers were able to conduct tests on tooth enamel.
Tooth enamel provides more insights into gender than DNA
Dr. Glendon Parker, an adjunct associate professor in the Department of environmental toxicology at UC Davis, explained that tooth enamel is the toughest and most resilient substance in the human body.
It contains a protein that is linked to either the X or Y chromosome, making it a reliable indicator of an individual’s sex.
“This is particularly valuable because this protein tends to withstand deterioration better than DNA, allowing for more accurate sex determination even in ancient remains.
In our analysis, we extracted small traces of proteins from the remaining tooth enamel. Through this process, we were able to determine with a 96% probability that the individual was female”, explained Dr. Parker.
Raids could be the primary form of warfare 2,000 years ago
Around 2,000 years ago, raids, which were unexpected attacks on enemy settlements, were the primary form of warfare. The discovery of both the mirror and weapons in the grave suggests a strong association with such military activities.
During the iron age, mirrors served multiple purposes in warfare. They could be used for signaling, communication, and coordinating attacks among groups.
Additionally, mirrors held ritualistic significance, acting as a means to communicate with the supernatural realm.
These rituals were conducted to ensure the success of a raid or to purify warriors upon their return from battle, reported The Guardian.