Category Archives: PORTUGAL

Centuries-old skeleton with massive, crippling bone growth unearthed in Portugal

Centuries-old skeleton with massive, crippling bone growth unearthed in Portugal

Centuries-old skeleton with massive, crippling bone growth unearthed in Portugal
The 3-inch-long lump of bone grew precisely where the pectineus muscle is attached to the femur and would have caused the woman severe pain.

A rare and gruesome bone growth protruding from a 14th to 19th-century woman’s thigh bone mushroomed after she suffered severe trauma, anthropologists in Portugal have found.

The 3-inch (8 centimeters) lump sprouted precisely where a muscle joins the inner thigh bone and the public bone together, which would have caused the woman debilitating pain and severely impaired mobility.

“I have never seen such [a] large bone formation,” lead author Sandra Assis, a biological anthropologist at the NOVA University Lisbon in Portugal, told Live Science in an email. “I was really intrigued by its morphology.”

The massive, “rope-like” bone spur probably formed on the woman’s femur as a result of a serious muscle injury, according to a study published Jan. 9, 2023 in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

The researchers think that this could be a rare form of bone growth called myositis ossificans traumatica, which can develop after a single traumatic accident or following multiple minor injuries.

Archeologists unearthed the maimed woman’s skeleton in 2002 in the ancient necropolis of São Julião Church, in the village of Constância, Portugal. They discovered her remains among those 106 adults and 45 children who lived between 600 and 200 years ago.

Although it was incomplete and missing the left femur, her skeleton was well preserved and indicated that she was roughly 5 feet tall (1.54 meters) and over 50 years old.

Archeologists found her on her back, with her hands resting on her pelvis, a coin on her left forearm and her head tilted to the right. Researchers later spotted the protruding lump of bone, while cleaning the skeleton in the laboratory, Assis said.

The researchers detected no fracture on the woman’s thigh bone and remain uncertain about what caused the grisly growth to sprout. They concluded that the injury was 6 weeks to a year old when she died and would have prevented the woman from making any dynamic movements or from carrying weight.

The gruesome bulge probably developed following a traumatic accident that crippled a muscle in the woman’s inner thigh called the pectineus.

This is the first time that paleopathologists document a case of this rare type of bone growth, known as myositis ossificans traumatica, affecting the pectineus muscle.

“The appearance of the femoral bone suggests a longstanding process,” Assis said. “We do not have the medical record of this female, but looking at similar clinical cases we can assume that this femoral lesion was quite debilitating.”

Nowadays, surgery can remove bone spurs, but that was not an option when the woman lived, Assis said.

Were Steel Tools Used in the Late Bronze Age?

Were Steel Tools Used in the Late Bronze Age?

A study by an international and interdisciplinary team headed by Freiburg archaeologist Dr. Ralph Araque Gonzalez from the Faculty of Humanities has shown that steel tools were already in use in Europe around 2900 years ago.

Were Steel Tools Used in the Late Bronze Age?
(Rafael Ferreiro Mählmann (A), Bastian Asmus (B), Ralph Araque Gonzalez (C-E))

Using geochemical analyses, the researchers were able to prove that stone stelae on the Iberian peninsula that date back to the Final Bronze Age feature complex engravings that could only have been done using tempered steel.

This was backed up by metallographic analyses of an iron chisel from the same period and region (Rocha do Vigio, Portugal, ca. 900 BCE) that showed the necessary carbon content to be proper steel.

The result was also confirmed experimentally by undertaking trials with chisels made of various materials: only the chisel made of tempered steel was suitably capable of engraving the stone. Until recently it was assumed that it was not possible to produce suitable quality steel in the Early Iron Age and certainly not in the Final Bronze Age, and that it only came to be widespread in Europe under the Roman Empire.

“The chisel from Rocha do Vigio and the context where it was found show that iron metallurgy including the production and tempering of steel was probably indigenous developments of decentralized small communities in Iberia, and not due to the influence of later colonization processes. This also has consequences for the archaeological assessment of iron metallurgy and quartzite sculptures in other regions of the world,” explains Araque Gonzalez.

The study ‘Stone-working and the earliest steel in Iberia: Scientific analyses and experimental replications of final bronze age stelae and tools’ has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Iberian pillars of siliceous quartz sandstone could only be worked with tempered steel

The archaeological record of Late Bronze Age Iberia (c. 1300-800 BCE) is fragmentary in many parts of the Iberian Peninsula: sparse remains of the settlement and nearly no detectable burials are complemented by traces of metal hoarding and remains of mining activities.

Taking this into account, the western Iberian stelae with their depictions of anthropomorphic figures, animals, and selected objects are of unique importance for the investigation of this era.

Until now, studies of the actual rocks from which these stelae were made to gain insights into the use of materials and tools have been the exception. Araque Gonzalez and his colleagues analyzed the geological composition of the stelae in depth.

This led them to discover that a significant number of stelae were not as had been assumed made of quartzite, but silicate quartz sandstone. “Just like quartzite, this is an extremely hard rock that cannot be worked with bronze or stone tools, but only with tempered steel,” says Araque Gonzalez.

Chisel discovery and archaeological experiments confirm the use of steel

Analysis of an iron chisel found in Rocha do Vigio showed that Iberian stonemasons from the Final Bronze Age had the necessary tools.

The researchers discovered that it consisted of heterogeneous yet astonishingly carbon-rich steel. To confirm their findings, the researchers also carried out an experiment involving a professional stonemason, a blacksmith, and a bronze caster, and attempted to work the rock that the pillars were made of using chisels of different materials.

The stonemason could not work the stone with either the stone or the bronze chisels, or even using an iron chisel with an untempered point. “The people of the Final Bronze Age in Iberia were capable of tempering steel.

Otherwise, they would not have been able to work the pillars,” concludes Araque Gonzalez as a result of the experiment.

Neanderthals Enjoyed Seaside Crab Roasts in Portugal

Neanderthals Enjoyed Seaside Crab Roasts in Portugal

Neanderthals Enjoyed Seaside Crab Roasts in Portugal

Scientists studying archaeological remains at Gruta da Figueira Brava, Portugal, discovered that Neanderthals were harvesting shellfish to eat – including brown crabs, where they preferred larger specimens and cooked them in fires. Archeologists say this disproves the idea that eating marine foods gave early modern humans’ brains the competitive advantage.

In a cave just south of Lisbon, archeological deposits conceal a Paleolithic dinner menu. As well as stone tools and charcoal, the site of Gruta de Figueira Brava contains rich deposits of shells and bones with much to tell us about the Neanderthals that lived there – especially about their meals.

A study published in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology shows that 90,000 years ago, these Neanderthals were cooking and eating crabs.

“At the end of the Last Interglacial, Neanderthals regularly harvested large brown crabs,” said Dr Mariana Nabais of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA), lead author of the study.

“They were taking them in pools of the nearby rocky coast, targeting adult animals with an average carapace width of 16cm. The animals were brought whole to the cave, where they were roasted on coals and then eaten.”

Catching crabs in Paleolithic Portugal

A wide variety of shellfish remains were found in the archeological remains Nabais and her colleagues studied, but the shellfish in the undisturbed Paleolithic deposits are overwhelmingly represented by brown crabs. Their size was estimated by calculating the size of the carapace relative to the crabs’ pincers, which preserve better than other parts of the crab, so are more likely to survive to be found by scientists.

The archeologists assessed the breakage on the shells, looked for butchery or percussion marks, and determined whether the crabs had been exposed to high heat.

Nabais and her colleagues found that the crabs were mostly large adults which would yield about 200g of meat. By studying the patterns of damage on the shells and claws, they ruled out the involvement of other predators: there were no carnivore or rodent marks, and the patterns of breakage didn’t reflect predation by birds. Crabs are evasive, but Neanderthals could have harvested brown crabs of this size from low tide pools in the summer.

Accumulations of shellfish which are caused by hominins are identified by their association with stone tools and other hominin-made features like hearths, surface modifications like the burns found on approximately 8% of the crab shells, and evidence of intentional fractures; the fracture patterns on the crabs at Gruta de Figueira Brava suggested they’d been broken open for access to the meat. The expectation is also that larger individuals will be overrepresented, as at Gruta de Figueira Brava, reflecting hominins choosing animals which offer more meat.

Shellfish on the menu

The evidence indicated to Nabais and her colleagues that Neanderthals weren’t just harvesting the crabs, they were roasting them. The black burns on the shells, compared to studies of other mollusks heated at specific temperatures, showed that the crabs were heated at about 300-500 degrees Celsius, typical for cooking.

“Our results add an extra nail to the coffin of the obsolete notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely scrape a living off scavenged big-game carcasses,” said Nabais. “Together with the associated evidence for the large-scale consumption of limpets, mussels, clams, and a range of fish, our data falsify the notion that marine foods played a major role in the emergence of putatively superior cognitive abilities among early modern human populations of sub-Saharan Africa.”

The authors cautioned that it was impossible to know why Neanderthals chose to harvest crabs or whether they attached any significance to consuming crabs, but whatever their reasons eating the crabs would have offered meaningful nutritional benefits.

“The notion of the Neanderthals as top-level carnivores living off large herbivores of the steppe-tundra is extremely biased,” said Nabais. “Such views may well apply to some extent to the Neanderthal populations of Ice Age Europe’s periglacial belt, but not to those living in the southern peninsulas — and these southern peninsulas are where most of the continent’s humans lived all through the Paleolithic, before, during and after the Neanderthals.”

Saint Anthony of Padua revealed in stunning facial approximation

Saint Anthony of Padua revealed in stunning facial approximation

A team of international researchers has revealed a facial approximation of what Saint Anthony of Padua may have looked like.

Saint Anthony of Padua revealed in stunning facial approximation
A facial approximation of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles.

A newly released image shows what Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese priest who lived and died in the 13th century, may have looked like.

Using CT (computed tomography) scans of the priest’s skull, an international team of researchers created a lifelike facial approximation of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles.

The final image includes a man with a cap of thinning brown hair crowning his head. The man wears a brown robe, just as Franciscan friars did in the Middle Ages.

However, this wouldn’t be the first time that a facial reconstruction was made of the religious figure. In 1981, Italian sculptor Roberto Cremesini created a replica of St. Anthony’s skull using plaster.

The piece was the result of an exhumation of the saint, which Pope John Paul II authorized, according to the new study, which will be published in the March 2023 issue of the journal Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

More than 30 years later, in 2014, researchers from the University of St. Anthony of Padua’s Anthropology Museum, along with a team of international forensic researchers, made another facial reconstruction using only a digital copy of the exhumed skull, according to a Catholic News Agency article.

That image features a man, his face angled to the viewer, also with a balding head of dark hair, dressed in a robe to make him appear more lifelike.

“Today’s work is an update on the technique and shows a clear evolution from the 2014 face,” Cícero Moraes, the study’s lead author and a Brazilian graphics expert who also worked on the 2014 reconstruction, told Live Science in an email.

“The present approximation has greatly improved anatomical coherence…and is more compatible with a real face.” 

In addition to the facial approximation, Moraes and his co-authors, Luca Bezzi, an Italian archaeologist, and Nichola Carrara, with the University of St. Anthony of Padua, also made a reconstruction of the endocranium, the skull’s base, which was exceedingly large compared to the average human skull.

In other words, St. Anthony had a very large head. “The fact is that this volume is large even compared to modern individuals,” Moraes said.

St. Anthony died in 1231 in Padua at age 36; he was canonized a year later.

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.