The cremated remains of a high-status woman and two fetuses have been found in a Bronze Age grave in Hungary, buried with goods including a gold hair ring.
People of the Vatya culture – who lived from around 2200-1450 BCE, during the Hungarian Early and Middle Bronze Age – commonly cremated their dead.
While this typically makes studying their remains a challenge, researchers led by the University of Bologna, Italy turned to new osteological sampling strategies.
This allowed them to analyze human tissues from 29 graves in the huge urnfield cemetery of Szigetszentmiklós-Ürgehegy, which is located south of Budapest.
This, the team said, allowed them to shed light on the nature of life in Bronze Age central Europe — including how women outside their immediate group married.
The cremated remains of a high-status woman (left) and two fetuses (right) have been found in a Bronze Age grave in Hungary, buried with goods including a gold hair ring
People of the Vatya culture – who lived from around 2200-1450 BCE, during the Hungarian Early and Middle Bronze Age – commonly cremated their dead. Pictured: Szigetszentmiklós-Ürgehegy urnfield cemetery, left, with a close-up of one urn, right
In all, prehistorian Claudio Cavazzuti of the University of Bologna and his colleagues analyzed 26 urns of cremated ashes along with three whole graves — using isotope analysis to determine whether the individuals were local to the area.
Of the ashes, seven belonged to adult males, 11 to adult females, two to adults of uncertain sex and six children, four aged 2-5 years and two aged 5-10 years.
While most tombs contain only the remains of a single individual, along with simple grave goods made of ceramic or bronze, one turned out to be different.
This – dubbed grave 241 – contained an urn containing the ashes of an adult woman and two 28-32 gestational weeks old fetuses, buried alongside goods including a gold hair ring, a bronze neck ring and two bone hairpin decorations.
“Thanks to a broad spectrum of new bioarchaeological methods, techniques and sampling strategies, it is now possible to reconstruct the life histories of cremated people from the Bronze Age,” said Professor Cavazzuti and his team.
‘In this case, [we] explored the movements and tragic events of the life of a high-status woman, who settled along the Danube in the territory of present-day Hungary 4,000 years ago,” they continued.
The researchers believe the woman in grave 241 — who, based on her remains, was somewhere between 25 and 35 years old — may have died as a result of complications carrying or giving birth to the two twins she was buried with .
The bone weight of her ashes — which was 50 percent higher than the average of the 26 ashes sampled — suggests that her remains were collected very carefully after her cremation.
In addition, strontium isotope analysis indicated that she was born elsewhere, having moved to Szigetszentmiklós sometime in early adolescence, aged 8-13 years.
This – dubbed grave 241 – contained an urn containing the ashes of an adult female and two fetuses aged 28-32 weeks, buried alongside goods including a gold hair ring (bottom right), a bronze neck ring (left) and two bone hairpin ornaments ( top right)
She wasn’t the only non-local buried in the Szigetszentmiklós urgehegy urnfield—another adult woman appeared to have immigrated to the area.
In fact, all adult women had a more varied strontium isotope composition than the adult men, whose values were concentrated within a narrow range.
According to the researchers, the findings indicate that women in Central Europe from the Bronze Age — and especially those of high rank — tended to marry outside their immediate social group.
The study’s full findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Researchers analyzed human tissues from 29 graves at the huge urnfield cemetery of Szigetszentmiklós-Ürgehegy, south of Budapest
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT EUROPEAN MIGRATIONS DURING THE BRONZE AGE?
Experts combine data from archaeology, anthropology, genetics and linguistics to determine likely migration patterns.
According to the Kurgan hypothesis pictured below, the people who lived on the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea were the most likely speakers of a Proto-Indo-European language.
Experts combine data from archaeology, anthropology, genetics and linguistics to determine likely migration patterns. A map of the supposed Indo-European migrations of 4000-1000 BC
Most modern Europeans are descendants of a mixture of European hunter-gatherers, Anatolian early farmers and steppe herders.
However, the DNA of ancient Siberians can also be found in European speakers of Ural languages, such as Estonian and Finnish.
A 2015 study in Nature suggested there was a major migration of people from the northern Black Sea to eastern, central and western Europe that began around 2,800 BC.