A female composite skeleton found on Cladh Hallan (Mike Parker Pearson/University of Sheffield)Researchers say that a pair of 3,000-year-old mummified corpses that were recently discovered in Scotland are actually composed of body parts originating from six different people.
The mummified corpses were discovered in Cladh Hallan, an archaeological site on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It is the only location in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been discovered.
National Geographic reports that isotopic dating and DNA experiments revealed the unusual pairing of body parts. The tests also revealed that the body parts were assembled and buried together more than 600 years after death, meaning that the assemblage was almost certainly deliberate.
However, it remains unclear exactly why the Frankenstein-like pieces were put together. The merging of mummies and Frankenstein sounds like something out of an unproduced 1930s Universal horror film. But lead researcher and University of Manchester professor Terry Brown says the answer could be simple and somewhat morbid: The original body parts may have simply been plugged in as a convenience to replace missing pieces.
"Maybe the head dropped off and they got another head to stick on," he said.
Meanwhile, fellow researcher and University of Sheffield professor Mike Parker Pearson tells LiveScience the parts could have been more specifically put together to show the connected lineage between families other time.
"Rights to land would have depended on ancestral claims, so perhaps having the ancestors around 'in the flesh' was their prehistoric equivalent of a legal document," Parker Pearson said.
"Merging different body parts of ancestors into a single person could represent the merging of different families and their lines of descent," Parker Pearson said. "Perhaps this was a prelude to building the row of houses in which numerous different families are likely to have lived."
Brown tells National Geographic he believes researchers will discover more composite-like bodies on the island. In fact, he said such mummified corpses may have already been discovered but can only be verified by comparing the DNA of various body parts.
"I think you'd have to go back to a time when the rituals were more bizarre," Brown said of finding similar corpses. "You'd have to go back to the mists of unrecorded time."
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