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Maternal relationships within an Iron Age burial at the High Pasture Cave, Isle of Skye, Scotland

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  • Katharina Dulias
  • Steven Birch
  • James F. Wilson
  • Pierre Justeau
  • Francesca Gandini
  • Antónia Flaquer
  • Pedro Soares
  • Martin B. Richards
  • Maria Pala
  • Ceiridwen J. Edwards


Publication details

JournalJournal of archaeological science
DateAccepted/In press - 8 Jul 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 12 Sep 2019
Early online date12/09/19
Original languageEnglish


Human remains from the Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland are rare, which makes the assemblage of an adult female and numerous foetal bones at High Pasture Cave, on the Isle of Skye, particularly noteworthy. Archaeological evidence suggests that the female had been deposited as an articulated skeleton when the cave entrance was blocked off, marking the end of use of the site. Particularly intriguing is the deposition of disarticulated remains from a foetus and perinate close to the adult female, which opens the possibility that the female might have been the mother of both of the infants. We used shotgun genome sequencing in order to analyse the mitochondrial genomes of all three individuals and investigate their maternal relationship, and we report here, for the first time, complete ancient mitogenomes from foetal-aged bone fragments. While we could not exclude the possibility that the female was the mother of, or maternally related to, the foetus, we could definitely say that she was not the mother of the perinate buried alongside her. This finding is contrary to the standard archaeological interpretation, that women in such burials most likely died in childbirth and were buried together with their foetuses.

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© 2019 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • ancient DNA, shot-gun sequencing, foetus, mitochondrial DNA

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