Bronze Age woman in Scotland was an early immigrant, DNA analysis reveals
Posted December 3, 2018 12:23 p.m. EST
(CNN) — Archeologists examining the remains of a woman who died more than 4,250 years ago have discovered surprising new information, thanks to DNA analysis.
The remains were discovered at Achavanich in Caithness, Scotland, in 1987, and now researchers are able to paint a detailed picture of the woman and her life.
Lead study author Maya Hoole said that Ava, as the woman is known, had black hair, brown eyes and a complexion similar to that of people who currently live in southern Europe.
She had previously been depicted with red hair and blue eyes, but forensic artist Hew Morrison produced a more accurate reconstruction of Ava's face.
"We have found some really quite incredible information about this individual," Hoole said, pointing out that Ava did not share genetic information with the local Neolithic population.
DNA analysis by scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Natural History Museum in London shows that Ava suffered illness when she was young but recovered to lead an active life. She was quite tall, and the fact that she was buried with a cow bone suggests that she was involved in cattle farming.
Ava lived during the Early Bronze Age, slightly earlier than previously thought, and was 18 to 25 years old when she died.
She was buried in an unusual grave carved out of bedrock, which would have taken two people a couple of days to dig, Hoole said.
The archaeologist said that only a handful of such burial sites have been discovered in Scotland, suggesting that a small minority of people were buried this way, but it is not known why Ava would have received such special attention.
The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, reveals that Ava's family probably moved to the area a few generations before she was born as part of an important migration movement from Northern Europe to Scotland.
"Our previous work looking at ancient DNA from hundreds of prehistoric British skeletons had already established that there was an influential movement of people from mainland Europe around 2500 BC which transformed the local population and their cultures," study co-author Tom Booth of the Natural History Museum said in a statement.
"However, the reconstruction of Ava brings a sense of humanity to a story which can often appear as an abstract mass of bones, genes and artefacts."
Hoole says archeologists could learn huge amounts by applying new research methods to existing material as well as new digs.
"What I think is especially important about our research and our findings is that it demonstrates how much we can learn from existing archaeological material that we already have in our archives and our museums," Hoole said.
"Even in the last few decades, technological advances have developed drastically, and we could learn so much more from existing collections if there were the resources and the will to do so."