Super Strong Woman Found in Lower Central America’s Earliest Human Burial
Nicaragua is a country which is not associated with many archaeological finds, unlike other nations in Central America. However, recently archaeologists in the country have found the oldest human burial ever unearthed in the region. They discovered a grave containing the almost complete remains of a mystery woman who lived approximately 4,000 years ago. The find could revolutionize the history of the area.
Found near Monkey Point Village
Nicaraguan archaeologists were working on a remote site known as the ‘Angi shell-matrix site’ according to Antiquity. It is near the village of Monkey Point on the Caribbean coast of the country, home to a community who are of African descent. There have been small finds here since the 1970s and experts believe that a fishing community lived here and that they possibly used the rivers to engage in long-distance trade in the past. However, archaeologists have been frustrated by the lack of material remains which probably deteriorated in the hot tropical climate and because of the acidity levels in the soil.
Left Top - A map of Nicaragua, where the ancient woman's remains were found; Left Bottom - Monkey Point, the site of the archaeological dig; Right - a zoomed-in image of Monkey Point, showing the exact spot of the Angi site. (Roksandic M / Antiquity)
A Grave with Seashells
The excavation was conducted with the assistance of local indigenous communities, the Kriol and Rama. Experts found the woman in an oval grave that was 6 feet (2 meters) wide and high that was, “lined with basalt and a layer of charcoal-rich sediment” according to the IFL Science website. She was found on her back and her body was placed in the grave with her knees bent and with her hands by her side. Interestingly she was deposited on a mound of shells that indicate that she was buried with some form of ritual. The shells apparently reduced the “acidity of the soil and helped preserve the remains” reports Live Science.
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Top - The excavated burial of the ancient woman, bottom - how she was buried in a shallow oval pit about 5,900 years ago. (Roksandic M / Antiquity)
Dating the remains was initially difficult because while the skeleton was well-preserved and intact there was little collagen, a protein found in muscles of the body. This meant that it was difficult to carbon date the find, but according to Antiquity, “samples obtained from surrounding deposits date the burial to c. 3900 BC.” This means that the discovery was not only the earliest burial ever recorded in Lower Central America but is also the oldest archaeological site on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
A Muscular Woman
The remains were studied by local experts and anthropologists from the University of Winnipeg, Canada. This showed that the remains were of a woman who was between 25 and 45. She was quite short in stature at just under five feet (150 cm) but it should be noted that many of the indigenous population are of a similar height, such as the Rama, who live in communities not far from Monkey Point.
The left radius - arm bone of the ancient woman. Notice the pronounced markings on the bone, which suggest she was muscular. (Roksandic M / Antiquity)
Mirjana Roksandic from the University of Winnipeg who is the lead author of a study on the discovery stated that the woman had “strongly developed musculature of the forearm” according to Live Science. When alive she was very powerfully built. This has led the investigators to believe that she was a rower which may account for her powerful build. Even today many locals are muscular because they are regular rowers. It is common to see young Rama children and old women rowing in wooden canoes out at sea.
What Does the Burial Tell Us?
Analysis of the woman’s remains also revealed that her teeth were very worn. This is also the case with the modern population of the area, mainly because of the large amount of shelled fish that they consume. As a result, it would appear that the woman had a diet that was rich in shellfish. The find gives an important insight into the economy and society of the region some 4000 years ago, suggesting that it was one based on fishing and gathering, rather similar to the traditional Rama and Kriol lifestyle today.
A profile shot of the Angi burial. Left - photo taken during the excavation. Right - drawing of photo, showing the different layers, as well as where the shells and body were buried. (Roksandic M / Antiquity)
There is expected to be more investigations of the site, with the collaboration of the indigenous communities that could lead to even more finds. Live Science reports that the team who found the grave “got permission from the local Rama and Kriol communities to continue their work.” This will allow experts to understand the development of human societies not only in modern Nicaragua but all of Central America. It could show that Lower Central America was more historically important than once thought. However, the Nicaraguan government intends to develop this area including the building of a transoceanic canal. This will possibly disrupt or even halt future excavations in the areas around Monkey Point and have a devastating impact on the local indigenous people.
Shells at Angi Site. (Dr. Mirjana Roksandic / YouTube)
Top image: The excavated burial of the ancient woman in Nicaragua. Source: Roksandic M / Antiquity
By Ed Whelan