Archaeologists Unearth Hollowed-Out Whale Vertebra Containing Human Jawbone, Remains of Newborn Lambs
by Jason Daley/Smithsonian.com
When archaeologists excavated a Scottish Iron Age site called the Cairns in 2016, they discovered a hollowed-out whale vertebra filled with a trio of unexpected objects: a human jaw bone and the remains of two newborn lambs. Dated to about the mid-2nd century A.D., the vessel was propped near the entrance of a broch, or type of roundhouse, and held in place by a pair of red deer antlers and a large grinding stone.
“All this treatment appears to have been part of the measures employed to perform an act of closure of the broch,” reads a statement from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
A new DNA analysis conducted by researchers at the institute adds a new piece to this perplexing puzzle. As Huw Williams reports for BBC News, the team’s preliminary findings suggest the bone belongs to a fin whale. Given the fact that fin whales are the second largest whale species on Earth, UHI archaeologist Martin Carruthers says this determination may help archaeologists address a much-debated question: Did Iron Age Scots actively hunt the massive whales, or did they simply make the most of animals swept ashore?