Many skeletons tumble out

Many skeletons tumble out

Discovery throws light on life of past

Many skeletons tumble out

A study has revealed that people of Chalcolithic culture knew treatment for fractures

For two senior anthropologist, it was their routine work—excavate to find new things. This one, they had definitely not bargained for. When they stumbled upon something new, which they never imagined will witness many skeletons tumbling out.

A few months back, when anthropologists Prof Kishore Kumar Basa from Utkal University in Bhubaneswar and Prof R K Mohanty of Deccan College, Pune, began their excavation in a comparatively small piece of land in Banga village, near Harirajpur, on the border of two coastal Odisha districts of Khurda and Puri, they had not imagined that they would hit the headlines very soon.

The anthropologists and their team unearthed a skeleton that turned out to be, hold your breath, 3,500 to 4,000 years old. “It was an adult human skeleton belonging to Chalcolithic culture that
existed in Odisha 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. It was certainly an interesting discovery,” said Prof Basa. The skeleton was that of a man who, according to experts, had died between 35 and 40 years of age. The discovery also brought to the fore several significant and interesting aspects of the then society and people which include their skill and expertise in treating diseases and major injuries, particularly bone-related ones.

It all started on January 16 this year, when Prof Basa and Prof Mohanty decided to take up excavation at the coastal Odisha village after getting preliminary evidence of some kind of ancient civilisation on the spot as well as in nearby areas. Their hard labour of one month bore fruit when they finally discovered the skeleton and successfully managed to take it out.

The next job was to bring the skeleton to the laboratory of Utkal University which both the
anthropologists and their team members did successfully. “It was certainly not an easy task. It was a tedious job as we had to bring the skeleton carefully piece by piece,” stressed Prof Basa.

The most challenging task, however, was to conduct a detailed study of the skeleton which was done in March by a team of experts headed by two eminent anthropologists from Pune-based Deccan College, Prof Subash R Walimbe and Veena Mushriff Tripathy. The week-long study-cum-workshop came out with some interesting revelations.

According to the study, the 5.7-foot-tall man with a lean body most probably had died a natural death though the end had come at an early age. “Though the cause of the death cannot be positively ascertained, it was not untimely,” said Prof Basa.

If experts are to be believed, around 40 was the average age of the people in Chalcolithic age (Copper stone age in common man’s language).

Moreover, the man was healthy and his bones showed no sign of infection or traumatic injuries. He, however, had a fractured left arm which had healed after treatment. The fracture could have been caused by an accident --most probably by a fall-- during the adulthood. The broken bones had completely healed.

The study also found sign of secondary infection of an open wound due to the fracture which was also successfully treated. But the body of the man had a shortened forearm which indicated that the deformity could have happened during treatment.

But the successful healing of the wound and the fractured arm clearly indicated that in those days people had the medical skills and expertise to treat such serious injuries and diseases. It has now been decided to conduct an x-ray of the fractured bone to find more about the healing process of the injury.

The experts ascertained the age of the skeleton by conducting a detailed study on the growth of its six long bones and a few facial features that resemble people from Odisha.

Another significant and perhaps the most interesting finding of the examination of the skeleton was the portion of the man’s body below the knee had been chopped off. It, however, did not surprise the experts much because in the Chalcolithic age it was a common practice to cut down the lower feet of the dead bodies before their burial.

Samples of the skeleton have already been sent to Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology for a DNA analysis. A successful DNA analysis is expected to help the experts to reconstruct the settlement history of Chalcolithic era in Odisha. “Let us hope for the best,” observed Prof Basa.

The discovery of the skeleton had triggered a lot of interest among the common people in the villages around the excavation site. “As the news spread, the spot had virtually become a pilgrimage place with a large number thronging there for a glimpse of it. So much so that we had to put up a barricade around the area,” said Prof Basa.

This is, however, not for the first time the skeleton of an ancient era was found in Odisha. A similar
discovery was made in another coastal village a few years back. But the skeleton was that of a small child and not an adult individual.

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