Category Archives: PORTUGAL

Huge dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Portuguese garden

Huge dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Portuguese garden

Palaeontologists in Portugal have unearthed the fossilized skeleton of what could be the largest dinosaur ever found in Europe. The remains are thought to be those of a sauropod, a herbivorous dinosaur 12 meters (39 feet) tall and 25 meters long that roamed the Earth around 150 million years ago.

One of the sauropod’s ribs is about three metres long.

“It’s one of the biggest specimens discovered in Europe, perhaps in the world,” palaeontologist Elisabete Malafaia, from the Faculty of Sciences at Lisbon University, told AFP on Monday.

The bones were uncovered by Portuguese and Spanish scientists in the garden of a house near Pombal in central Portugal at the beginning of August.

Among the bones collected, they found the remains of a rib about three meters long, Malafaia said.

Fossil fragments were first noticed at the site in 2017 when the owner was digging up his garden to make way for an extension.

He contacted palaeontologists, who unearthed part of the dinosaur skeleton earlier this month and have been examining it ever since.

Sauropods have characteristically long necks and tails and are among the largest animals to have ever lived.

The fossils discovered at the Monte Agudo site in Pombal are thought to be those of a brachiosaurid who lived during the Upper Jurassic period.

The fact that the vertebrae and ribs were found at the same location and in the position they would have been in the dinosaur’s anatomy is “relatively rare”, Malafaia said.

The team may conduct more digs in the coming months at the site and in the surrounding area.

Portuguese scientists discover a 100,000-year-old case of deafness

Portuguese scientists discover a 100,000-year-old case of deafness

Around 100,000 years ago somewhere in Morocco a hunter-gatherer started stumbling about suffering vertigo and hearing loss.

Portuguese scientists discover a 100,000-year-old case of deafness

Now, almost 50 years since parts of his skeleton were found as fossils, scientists in Coimbra University have announced the discovery of the “oldest case of deafness in a human being”.

Indeed, from the symptoms, it sounds suspiciously like the hunter-gatherer in question was suffering not just from deafness, but from chronic ear infection.

Explains Lusa, the fossil, tagged as ‘Dar-es-Soltane II H5′ was studied using what is called a micro-CT scan, “also known as computer-assisted microtomography.

“It is similar to a hospital CAT scan, but with a better resolution and which allows a more detailed observation. The observation of the micro-CT and the 3D  reconstruction was done with specific software,” says Dany Coutinho Nogueira, a researcher at the Centre for Research in Anthropology and Health (CIAS) of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC).

According to Coutinho Nogueira, the temporal bone (where the auditory system is housed) is very important.

“One part of this bone, the ‘pars petrosa’, is made up of the densest bone in the human body, which sometimes allows better preservation in ancient fossils. This part contains the organs of hearing (cochlea) and balance (semicircular canals), which are studied in paleoanthropology to distinguish human groups (the morphology of this structure in Homo Sapiens is different from those of Neanderthals),” he explained.

When observing the semicircular canals of this fossil (a skull, complete with jawbone), to confirm which human group it belonged to, the FCTUC researcher noticed that “the canals were partially ossified, that is, they had bone in parts where they should not have”.

The study revealed that the individual suffered from ‘labyrinthitis ossificans’, a disease “that causes the ossification of the semicircular canals and the cochlea”.

This condition “implies balance problems, dizziness, vertigo and hearing loss. This pathology is very incapacitating for a hunter-gatherer – limiting the ability to hunt and find food”, said Coutinho Nogueira.

The limited survival time of the individual after the onset of the disease calls into question the cause of death, he added.

The individual died a few months after the onset of the pathology. He could not have survived that long without help from other individuals because he would not have been able to acquire food and hunt, “which indicates to us that there was a form of monitoring from the rest of the group, at least for a few months,” said the scientist.

According to Coutinho Nogueira, this study provides new information about the state of health of past populations, “in particular hunter-gatherers, and also shows that recent technologies allow discovering new information and detecting pathologies on fossils discovered almost 50 years ago”.

Dany Coutinho Nogueira stressed that only two fossils of Homo Sapiens hunter-gatherers present this pathology, “the other was from Singa (a skull discovered in Sudan in 1924 and the target of a scientific study in 1998)”.

“They are the two oldest identified cases of acquired deafness in our species,” he stressed.

The results of the University of Coimbra researchers’ study were recently published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

350-year-old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal

350-year-old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal

A team of researchers have found an African man buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. The man lived just 350 years ago. 

350-year-old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal

A team of researchers have found an African man buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. The man lived just 350 years ago. A shell midden is an archaeological feature consisting mainly of mollusc shells.

The discovery is very surprising because Amoreira and other midden sites in the Muge region in Portugal are well known by archaeologists for the cemeteries of the last hunter-gatherers living in the area 8,000 years back, a statement issued by Uppsala University in Sweden said. 

Researchers from Uppsala University and the University of Lisbon, Portugal recently investigated this burial by combining biomolecular archaeology, ancient DNA, and historical records. The study was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences. 

Where Was The First-Generation African From?

The scientists determined that these were the bone remains of a first-generation African, probably from Senegambia, which is a historical name for a geographical region in West Africa. The man arrived in Portugal via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and died around 1630 and 1760 AD, the study said. 

What Did The Man’s Diet Consist Of?

The researchers analysed his genetic signature and dietary isotope. The genetic signature indicated African ancestry, the study said. The man’s diet consisted of plant foods commonly found in Senegambia, the dietary isotope analysis showed. At that time, Senegambia was not in Portugal. 

According to the study, the African man’s diet also consisted of minor consumption of low trophic level marine foods, such as bivalve molluscs. 

How Did The Researchers Determine The Place Of Origin?

The researchers determined that the place of origin could be narrowed to the coastal areas of western Africa, in present-day Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. 

The study said that the oxygen isotopic signal in the bone bioapatite reflected the ingested water at the place of origin. Bioapatite is a form of calcium phosphate that is the major component in the mineralised part of vertebrate bone teeth. 

Africans were brutally dislocated from their homeland for more than three centuries. They were forced to adopt a new religion, a new name, and a new language. 

In order to preserve their socio-cultural identity, African communities in Portugal developed certain strategies, the study said. This was similar to what was documented in the Americas. The researchers used their results to search for other clues that could help them understand the motivations behind the unusual burial, the study said. 

What Does The Unusual Burial Indicate?

According to the study, the burial of the man in an 8000-years-old site could be an example of the maintenance of African cultural beliefs and practices by African people who translocated to Europe. However, this practice is not documented in historical records. 

Amoreira, like many other archaeological sites, was probably known by the local populations as an ancient burial ground, the study said. This is because animal and human bones are abundant at the site. 

The grave was arranged with a layer of sand. Hence, it suggested a level of preparation for burial in a seemingly deviant place, the study said.

In Portugal, the dead were generally buried on religious grounds, from the Middle Ages up to the mid-nineteenth centuries. But this African man was not buried in a religious ground, the study said.

The researchers found that interestingly, up to the present day, shell middens are actively used in western Africa. The usage of shell middens, particularly in Senegambia, includes ancient and modern cemeteries, the study said.

The burial of the African man in a Portuguese shell midden could indicate the recognition of the site as a meaningful place by the African community of Amoreira, the study said. This was probably according to West African socio-cultural traditions. 

In a cemetery of enslaved people in the Canary Islands, other examples of non-Christian funerary practices have been identified. The researchers noted in the study that future investigations may clarify if this was an isolated event or part of a broader movement.

Was The African Man Murdered?

The researchers attempted to identify this individual and found a document from the local church dated November 1, 1976, the statement said. The document mentions the murder of a young man named João at Arneiro de Amoreira. This is precisely the region where the bone remains were found. 

According to the statement, the church registers state that the victim was buried in the churchyard. However, the bones were unearthed at Amoreira. The researchers’ findings indicate that the person’s parents were of African ancestry, the study said.

The authors noted in the study that the intersection of several lines of investigation enabled them to reconstruct specific aspects of the life and death of a first-generation African individual in Portugal during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade period.

Mummies uncovered in Portugal date back 8,000 years and could be oldest in the world

Mummies uncovered in Portugal date back 8,000 years and could be oldest in the world

Archaeologists are set to rewrite the history books after they uncovered new evidence that suggests the oldest instances of mummification occurred 8,000 years ago.

Researchers have taken a second look at photographs snapped 60 years ago of several skeletons that were buried in southern Portugal.

A new analysis of these photos has led them to believe that the oldest evidence of mummification actually originated in Europe, not Egypt or Chile as previously thought. During excavations in the 1960s, archaeologists discovered nearly a dozen ancient bodies in Portugal’s Sado Valley.

Analysing previously undeveloped photos, researchers now believe that at least one of those bodies had been mummified.

They theorise that this was done to possibly make it easier to transport before its burial.

Experts also found evidence that suggests that other bodies that were buried at the site may have been similarly preserved as mummies, implying that this was a widespread practice in the region.

Mummification is most commonly associated with Ancient Egypt, where elaborate burial procedures were used more than 4,500 years ago.

Archaeology breakthrough as world’s oldest mummy found in Portugal rewrites history
Archaeology breakthrough as world’s oldest mummy found in Portugal rewrites history
Archaeologists were able to reconstruct the burial sites from photographs

Other evidence of mummification outside Egypt is found in other parts of Europe, dating from about 1000 BC.

However, archaeologists have now dated this person as the oldest mummy ever discovered, predating all previous instances by a long time.

This newly identified mummy in Portugal pushes back the previous record by about 1,000 years, then held by mummies found in the coastal region of Chile’s the Atacama Desert.

When it comes to hot and dry regions like Egypt and the Atacama desert, mummification is a relatively straightforward process.

However, it is generally difficult to find evidence of mummies in Europe, where much wetter conditions mean that mummified soft tissues rarely stay preserved, according to Rita Peyroteo-Stjerna, a bioarchaeologist at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Speaking to Live Science, Ms Peyroteo-Stjerna, the lead author of the study said: “It’s very hard to make these observations, but it’s possible with combined methods and experimental work.”

Other authors of the study added: “These burials generally conform to the pattern characteristic of the mortuary practices known for these hunter-gatherer communities, but aspects of the treatment of the body, including its transformation and curation before burial, are new elements.

One of the bodies was in a hyperflexed state
The remains are believed to be 8000 years old

“New insights into the use of burial places, such as a very tight clustering of burials, and the proposed cases of mummification and the subsequent internment of hyperflexed, intact bodies highlight the significance of both the body and the burial place in the wider hunter-gatherer landscape of south-western Portugal.”

After observing the photographs, the archaeologists noted that the bones of the buried skeletons were “hyperflexed”, meaning that their limbs have been bent far beyond their natural limits.

This indicates that after the person’s death, the body had been tied up with bindings that have disintegrated since then.

The team also found that the bones of the skeleton were in excellent condition, particularly the small bones of the feet, which generally fall apart completely from the skeleton as the body decomposes.

The Mysterious Lapedo Child — A Neanderthal / Human Hybrid?

The Mysterious Lapedo Child — A Neanderthal / Human Hybrid?

A great mystery was unburied in 1998, in the bed of a rock shelter in the Lapedo Valley which lies 85 miles to the north of Lisbon, Portugal. Buried for millennia, archaeologists discovered the bones of a four-year-old Lapedo child, which was the first complete Paleolithic skeleton, dug in the Iberian Peninsula.

What added gravity to the discovery?

The unearthing had far greater significance because, after complete analysis, it was revealed that the child had the lower arms and chin of a human, however, the jaw had the characteristics of a Neanderthal, that is, a subspecies of archaic humans who inhabited the region of Eurasia some 30,000 years ago and went extinct due to a variety of factors related to modern human evolution.

However, some people discredit this theory and claim that Neanderthals mated with the early modern humans, and initially, the genetic combination made them a part of daily life. This theory, however, poses dramatic implications for evolutionary theorists around the globe.

The discovery of the Lapedo Child in a nutshell:

The discovery was revealed in November 1998 by archaeologists João Maurício and Pedro Souto who went to the Lapedo Valley to investigate reports about prehistoric rock paintings which actually came out to be true. In due course of their investigation, they encountered a limestone rock-shelter, the Lagar Velho site.

The upper fill, of two to three meters, had been earlier bulldozed away by the landowner in 1992, which left a remnant of sediment hanging in a fissure along the back of the wall.

The matter of the fact was, this arrangement contained the density of the Upper Palaeolithic age consisting of stone tools, animal bones, and charcoal, making it clear that Lagar Velho had been an important occupation site.

This assumption was confirmed by subsequent excavations, producing radiocarbon dates within the bracket of 23,170 to 20,220 years.

While collecting the external materials that had loosened out from the remnant, João and Pedro investigated a break in the back wall. The loose sediments that were being scrutinized, they found the residues of several small human bones, stained with red ochre. 

This was subsequently found out to be a child’s grave, the sole Palaeolithic burial ever found in the Iberian Peninsula.

The child was buried with the utmost care in a shallow pit, making sure that the head and feet were placed higher than the hips. The body was placed on a burnt Scots pine branch, consisting of a hide covered in red ochre.

The remains of a rabbit were found between the child’s legs along with six other ornaments – four deer teeth which were assumed to be a part of a headdress, two periwinkle shells from the Atlantic, which was also surmised to have been a part of a pendant.

The mystery of the lapedo child uncovered:

For the task of retrieving the remnants of the lapedo child’s body, an excavation project was launched. The work was immensely tedious since the petite roots of the plants had penetrated into the spongy bones. About 160 cranial fragments were recovered after the sediments were sieved, which accounted for 80 percent of the total skull.

The bulldozer had hampered the skull but luckily missed the remaining body by two centimeters. If not, humankind wouldn’t have been subjected to such a great discovery.

The skeletal residues, post the recovery process, were sent to anthropologist Erik Trinkaus from Washington University for further analysis.

The astonishing discovery was then made. Erik found that the proportions of the lower limbs did not resemble those of a modern human, but rather, it had the characteristics of a Neanderthal. The entire skull, on the other hand, was modern in shape, as in the features of its inner ears and teeth. Although the skull resembled the features of a contemporary human, one peculiarity was noticed, a pitting in the occipital region which is a genetic trait of Neanderthals.

It was concluded by Trinkaus that the Lapedo child was a hybrid of Neanderthals and modern humans, a kind of morphological mosaic.

However, a debate arose following this conclusion. Researchers were of the view that these two forms of human are not thought to have coexisted later than 28,000 years ago in Iberia. Then how can the child consist of features of both? This debate got heated among the experts, some of whom accepted that the detection of the Lapedo child meant that Neanderthals interbred with modern humans, while others continue to hold on to the traditional view that the Neanderthals were wiped out and were replaced by another species.

In the contemporary era, the most popular theory which exists is that the remains of the child are those of an anatomically modern human with genetically inherited Neanderthal traits, which summarises that the last Neanderthals of Iberia had a role to play in contributing to the gene pool of subsequent populations.

Prehistoric Site in Portugal Yields 350-Year-Old Remains

Prehistoric Site in Portugal Yields 350-Year-Old Remains

Prehistoric Site in Portugal Yields 350-Year-Old Remains

An African man who lived just 350 years ago was buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. This was very surprising because Amoreira and other midden sites in the Muge region are well known by archaeologists for the cemeteries of the last hunter-gatherers living in area 8 000 years ago.

To investigate this burial researchers from Uppsala University and Universidade de Lisboa combined biomolecular archaeology, ancient DNA, and historical records.

We could determine that these were the bone remains of a first-generation African, probably from Senegambia, arriving in Portugal via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, who died around 1630 and 1760.

His genetic signature indicates African ancestry, while dietary isotope analysis shows that for most of his life, his diet consisted of plant foods commonly found in Senegambia, but not in Portugal at that time, plus a minor consumption of low trophic level marine foods (such as bivalve molluscs).

The oxygen isotopic signal in the bone bioapatite reflects the ingested water at the place of origin, which could be narrowed to the coastal areas of western Africa, in present-day Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia.

For more than three centuries, Africans were brutally dislocated from their homeland while forced to adopt a new religion, a new name, and a new language.

African communities in Portugal developed strategies to preserve their socio-cultural identity and values, similar to what is documented in the Americas.

We used our results to search for other clues that could help us understand the motivations behind his unusual burial.

The burial of this man in an 8000-years old site could be an example of the maintenance of African cultural beliefs and practices by African people translocated to Europe, even though this particular practice is not documented in the historical records. Like many other archaeological sites, Amoreira was probably known by the local populations as an ancient burial ground, given the abundance of animal and human bones at the site.

This grave seems to have been arranged with a layer of sand, suggesting a level of preparation for a burial in a seemingly deviant place; in Portugal, from the Middle Ages up to the mid-nineteenth centuries, the dead were generally buried in religious grounds, but this one was not.

We found that interestingly, up to the present day, shell middens are actively used in western Africa. In Senegambia in particular, the usage of shell middens includes ancient and modern cemeteries.

The burial of this individual in a Portuguese shell midden could indicate the recognition of the site as a meaningful place by the African community of Amoreira, possibly according to West African socio-cultural traditions.

In fact, other examples of non-Christian funerary practices have been identified in a cemetery of enslaved people in the Canary Islands. Future investigations may clarify if this was an isolated event or part of a broader movement.

We attempted to identify this individual and found a document from the local church dated to Nov 1st, 1676, which mentions the murder of a young man named João at Arneiro da Amoreira, which is precisely the area where the bone remains were found.

However, the church registers state that the victim was buried in the churchyard, but the bones we found were buried at Amoreira.

Additionally, the murdered man is described as brown or dun, possibly describing an interracial individual, but our results show that both mother and father were of African ancestry.

Whether the concurring site of the described murder and our studied bone remains is a mere coincidence, or rather the result of incompleteness, lack of detail or even accuracy of the historical records remains unknown.

Despite the incompleteness of the human remains and the historical records, the intersection of several lines of investigation enabled the reconstruction of specific aspects of the life and death of a first-generation African individual in Portugal during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade period, which would not otherwise have been possible to scrutinise from the skeletal material in the archaeological context.

More importantly, it shows the value of multidisciplinary research to investigate individual African life-histories in Early Modern Europe which have been obscured in large-scale studies.

Who Were the First People to Arrive in the Azores?

Who Were the First People to Arrive in the Azores?

A group of international academics discovered evidence that people inhabited islands in the Azores archipelago 700 years earlier than previously thought. The group explains their research of sediment cores taken from lakes on some of the archipelago’s islands in their report, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Who Were the First People to Arrive in the Azores?
Landscape view of Pico (foreground) and Faial (background) Islands.

Due to the absence of other evidence, historians have believed that people first arrived in the Azores in 1427, when Portuguese sailor Diogo de Silves landed on Santa Maria Island.

Soon thereafter, others from Portugal arrived and made the archipelago their home. In this new effort, the researchers found evidence that humans were living on some of the islands in the Azores approximately 700 years earlier.

Looking to learn more about the history of the Azores, the researchers began collecting sediment samples from several of the lakes on the islands and studying them to see what they might reveal.

Sediment samples can serve as historical evidence because the material in the air that falls to the surface of a lake and then to the lake bottom is covered over by new layers of sediment as time passes.

Analysis of the sediment cores showed an increase in 5-beta-stigmasterol in a core layer dated to a time between 700 CE and 850 CE, taken from Peixinho Lake. The compound is typically found in the faeces of livestock, such as cows and sheep—neither of which lived in the Azores prior to the arrival of humans.

They also saw upticks in charcoal particles (suggesting large fires had been burning) along with a dip in native tree pollens.

READ ALSO: ‘SUNKEN ATLANTIS PYRAMID’ DISCOVERED OFF AZORES COAST IN PORTUGAL

The findings suggest someone had burned down the forest to provide more land for livestock. The researchers found similar evidence in cores taken from Caldeirão Lake, which is on a different island, though it appeared approximately a century later. And they found evidence of non-native ryegrass in the sediment taken from a lake on a third island.

Lake Caldeirão inside the collapsed caldera of Corvo Island.

The findings present strong evidence of humans inhabiting the archipelago hundreds of years before the Portuguese arrived.

The researchers theorize that they were likely Norse seafarers, noting their accomplishments in sailing up and down the coasts of many parts of Europe.

Ancient Roman Military Camp Uncovered in Portugal

Ancient Roman Military Camp Uncovered in Portugal

Pioneering technology has helped experts find a lost camp built and used by thousands of Roman soldiers sent to conquer Northwest Iberia. The discovery is the largest and oldest Roman military fortified enclosure excavated so far in Galicia and northern Portugal. The foundations of the enclosure wall date from around the second century BC.

The 2,100-year-old Roman military camp of Lomba do Mouro in Melgaço, Portugal.

Experts analyzed a section of sediment from the wall’s foundations using an optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating technique. This made it possible to date the last time the quartz crystals were exposed to sunlight and how long they were buried under the walls.

The discovery means Lomba do Mouro is the oldest scientifically identified Roman camp to date in Galicia and northern Portugal and may link its construction to the first Roman military campaigns in Gallaecia.

The camp of Lomba do Mouro, in Melgaço, Portugal, was constructed by around 10,000 Roman troops who were crossing the Laboreiro Mountain between the Lima and Minho rivers. It was designed to be a temporary fortification, used for a day or weeks at most in the warmer months, and was built quickly.

The army was crossing high ground for safety. Written sources describe fighting during their excursion, but also some potential agreements were made with the local community.

Temporary camps are hard to spot because little archaeological evidence is left behind—due to their non-permanent nature and because they were often destroyed on purpose when the Roman Army left.

Dr. João Fonte, from the University of Exeter, a member of the research team, said: “Written sources mention the army crossing different valleys, but until now we didn’t know exactly where.

Because of the temporary nature of the site, it’s almost impossible to find without using remote sensing techniques, and radiocarbon dating wouldn’t have been accurate because plant roots creep into the structure.”

“We have found numerous military camps in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula in recent years, but their dating is very complex.

As they are temporary enclosures, there is very little material or organic evidence in them that would allow a scientifically valid dating to be obtained, until now.”

Covering more than 20 hectares, Lomba do Mouro was discovered using remote sensing techniques by the romanarmy.eu research collective and was the subject of an archaeological survey in September 2020.

Ancient Roman Military Camp Uncovered in Portugal
Detail of trench 2

The campaign was led by University of Exeter archaeologist João Fonte as part of the Finisterrae project funded by the European Commission through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant (grant agreement 794048).

Until now the oldest dated Roman camp in Galicia and northern Portugal—excavated by the same team—was Penedo dos Lobos (Manzaneda, Ourense), where coins could be found linking this enclosure with the war campaigns known as the Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC), with which the Emperor Octavian Augustus put an end to the process of conquest of Hispania. Lomba do Mouro was built a hundred years before Penedo dos Lobos.

In 137 BC the Roman consul Decimus Junius Brutus entered Gallaecia with two legions, crossing the rivers Douro and Lima and reaching the Minho.

The dating of the walls, together with the large dimensions of the enclosure, support the hypothesis that the camp may have been erected by a contingent linked to these times, although due to the degree of uncertainty of the dates it is difficult to establish a direct association with the episode of Decimus Junius Brutus campaign.