Institute of Archaeology

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First for Archaeology in UK 2015

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Mike Parker Pearson and the South Uist mystery

25 September 2012

Mike Parker Pearson undertaking fieldwork in north Wales (2012)

Research by Mike Parker Pearson and colleagues has unearthed a Bronze Age mystery at the site of Cladh Hallan in South Uist.  

A new study, using the latest in DNA technology, found that two 3,000-year-old human skeletons dug up in the Outer Hebrides are a jigsaw of at least six different people who died hundreds of years apart.  The discovery has been dubbed "Britain's Franken-mummies" in the media.

Mike who led the research excavations at Cladh Hallan in 2001 while at the University of Sheffield, said:

  • It looks like these individuals had been cut up and put back together to look like one person.....the mixing of the body parts could have been due to 'misfortune or carelessness', [but added] “the merging of their identities may have been a deliberate act, perhaps designed to amalgamate different ancestries into a single lineage.”

Both of the bodies had been buried in a crouched position on their sides and from the way the bones remained connected, it appeared they had been carefully preserved. Before the discovery, mummification at that time in history was thought to have been restricted to Egypt and South America.

Read the full story in the Telegraph»

Mike is co-author of the volume Ancient Uists: exploring the archaeology of the Outer Hebrides (2008) and is also one of the editors of the monograph From Machair to Mountains: archaeological survey and excavation in South Uist (2012).

The new DNA study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and is currently one of its most downloaded articles.