Viking-era ‘woman in blue’ provides clues to
Iceland’s earliest settlers
The partial skeleton of a young woman found in Iceland in
1938 in a grave with Viking-era objects belonged to a child
of some of the island’s earliest settlers, researchers reported April 14. Tooth development and wear suggest that
the individual, known as the “woman in blue,” was between
17 and 25 years old when she died.
It’s not known if the woman was a Viking or if she
came from another northern European population, said
bioarchaeologist Tina Jakob of Durham University in
England. A chemical analysis of one of the woman’s teeth
indicates that, between ages 5 and 10, she started eating
a lot of fish and other seafood for the first time after having previously consumed mainly plants and land animals,
a team led by Jakob and Joe Walser III of the University of
Iceland in Reykjavik found.
“The woman in blue was not Icelandic,” Jakob said. “She
came from southern Scandinavia or the British Isles.”
A blue-dyed apron she wore — from which she got her
nickname — and a strap from some type of garment display
weaving techniques from ninth to 10th century Norway
and Britain’s Celtic society, Jakob said. The apron’s plant-
based blue dye was typical of female Viking clothing, she
added. Fiber and chemical studies show that Icelandic
sheep provided wool used for these garments.
Radiocarbon dating of the apron, strap and one of the
woman’s teeth indicate she was born around 900, the
scientists conclude. Evidence of Iceland’s initial settlement
dates to between around 871 and 930, Jakob said.
While the woman lay in her grave, a Scandinavian
copper brooch came in contact with her face, helping to
A young woman now determined to have been one of Iceland’s
earliest settlers was found in 1938 in a grave with various Viking-era objects, including this pair of brooches.
preserve skin fibers. DNA from the woman is now being
studied. — Bruce Bower
Belize cave was site of Maya child sacrifice
Grim discoveries in Belize’s aptly named Midnight Terror
Cave shed light on a long tradition of child sacrifices in
ancient Maya society.
A large portion of 9,566 human bones, bone fragments
and teeth found on the cave floor from 2008 to 2010
belonged to individuals no older than 14 years, bioarchaeologist Michael Prout of California State University, Los
Angeles reported April 15. Many of the human remains
came from 4- to 10-year-olds. Because these bones are so
fragmented, it’s difficult to estimate precisely how many
individuals were placed in the cave.
Prout and colleagues suspect these children were sacrificed to a rain, water and lightning god that the ancient
Maya called Chaac.
Radiocarbon dating of the bones indicates that the
Maya deposited one or a few bodies at a time in the cave
over about a 1,500-year-period, starting at the dawn of
Maya civilization around 3,000 years ago, Prout said. At
least 114 bodies were dropped in the deepest, darkest
part of the cave, near an underground stream. Youngsters
up to age 14 accounted for a minimum of 60 of those
bodies. Ancient Maya considered inner cave areas with
water sources to be sacred spaces, suggesting bodies were
placed there intentionally as offerings to Chaac.
Until now, an underground cave at Chichén Itzá in
southern Mexico contained the only known instance of
large-scale child sacrifices by the ancient Maya, Prout
said. Other researchers have estimated that 51 of at least
101 individuals whose bones were found scattered in
Chichén Itzá’s “sacred well” were children or teens.
Researchers have often emphasized that human sacrifices in ancient Central American and Mexican civilizations targeted adults. “Taken together, however, finds at
Chichén Itzá and Midnight Terror Cave suggest that about
half of all Maya sacrificial victims were children,” Prout
said. — Bruce Bower
The surfaces of many H. naledi fossils
had been worn down enough to have possibly erased predators’ tooth marks and
signs of animal trampling, which would
be additional signs that another entrance
to the chamber once existed, Val said.
Given the large number of isolated and
broken H. naledi fossils, bodies or body
parts may have entered the chamber long
after death, in Val’s view. Perhaps water
from another part of the cave system
carried bodies into Dinaledi Chamber,
Geologic studies show that water
occasionally reached the chamber and
mildly eroded sediment there, Berger
said. But he doubts water washed bones
into Dinaledi Chamber. “Even if there
was another entrance to the chamber, it
still allowed access only to Homo naledi,”
Berger argued. No remains of any other
animals have been found in association
with H. naledi bones.
Like any rock star of lasting impact,
the South African hominid may soon
wow fans with new material. “
Thousands of Homo naledi fossils are almost
certainly left in the underground chamber,” Berger said. s