London: Bronze Age Britons may have intentionally mummified some of their dead, suggests a new study which reveals that ancient Brits practiced some novel and bizarre funerary rituals.
The study is the first to provide indications that mummification may have been a widespread funerary practice in Britain.
Lead researcher Tom Booth from University of Sheffield and colleagues analyzed skeletons at several Bronze Age burial sites across Britain.
The team found that the remains of some ancient Britons are consistent with a prehistoric mummy from northern Yemen and a partially mummified body recovered from a sphagnum peat bog in County Roscommon, Ireland.
Their examinations revealed that both the Yemeni and Irish mummies showed limited levels of bacterial bio-erosion within the bone and therefore established that the skeletons found in the Outer Hebrides as well as other sites across Britain display levels of preservation that are consistent with mummification.
The researchers also found that Bronze Age Britons may have used a variety of techniques to mummify their dead.
"Our research shows that smoking over a fire and purposeful burial within a peat bog are among some of the techniques ancient Britons may have used to mummify their dead. Other techniques could have included evisceration, in which organs were removed shortly after death," Booth said.
"The idea that British and potentially European Bronze Age communities invested resources in mummifying and curating a proportion of their dead fundamentally alters our perceptions of funerary ritual and belief in this period," he added.
The research also showed that funerary rituals that we may now regard as exotic, novel and even bizarre were practised commonly for hundreds of years by our predecessors.
The method of using microscopic bone analysis employed by Booth's team to identify formerly-mummified skeletons means that archaeologists can continue searching for Bronze Age mummies throughout Europe.