Otago scientist excavates medieval Uzbek cemetery

November 24, 2019

An Otago scientist has been digging up human remains in the backyards of Uzbek villagers to discover how people lived in the Middle Ages.

Department of Anatomy bioarcheologist Dr Rebecca Kinaston has recently returned from a month-long trip to the village of Xo'Janqo in southwest Uzbekistan, where she and Ladislav Damašek, from Charles University, Prague, co-led an archaeological team for a community-approved excavation funded by a University of Otago Research Grant.

Uzbekistan has a long history of human settlement, and its village oases were important links on High Medieval trade routes stretching across Europe and Asia.

Dr Kinaston says researchers were interested in understanding diet, health, migration, interaction, ancestry, and care during a time of increased interaction along what is commonly known as the Silk Roads.

"We keep doing this work because it's like solving a mystery. Every site is completely different - you don't know what you're going to find when you show up."

Buried skeletons, some dating back thousands of years, are particularly well-preserved in the area due to a favourable pH level in the desert soil, Dr Kinaston says.

"People are constantly finding human remains in their back yards and this is because they're also mining a lot of the soil to build their mud-brick houses.

"They're quite amenable to scientists coming and excavating them and keeping them curated at the museums in Uzbekistan."

Dr Kinaston collaborated with researchers from Charles University in Prague, and Termez University in Uzbekistan, to excavate a cemetery and tepa (dirt mound made from human settlement) from the High Medieval period - approximately 800-1220 A.D. - and analyse the skeletons found within.

While conducting earlier research in the area in 2017, Dr Kinaston was approached by a local farmer to examine skeletons eroding from the soil in his back yard. Radiocarbon dating (ca 1000-1100 AD) placed this cemetery in the High Medieval period and was likely associated with the nearby tepa.

She returned to the village on her latest trip with PhD student Robyn Kramer to excavate the cemetery, although she found the farmer had reburied the skeletons together in one hole, which was later found to contain six adults and three children.

An excavation of the site was planned, as well as the nearby tepa, where Dr Kinaston's collaborators found more graves dug into the layers of soils with medieval artefacts.

Before mapping out potential dig sites, Dr Kinaston and her fellow researchers met with the local community and landowners to obtain their approval.

"We had a lot of community support and a lot of school groups look at the site.

"Every day there was at least 20 to 40 people that would come by the site and see what we were doing and we'd explain to them what our process was."

Once they had excavated the remains, Dr Kinaston and Ms. Kramer began laboratory analysis using a number of methods.

Lesions on the skeletons gave clues about health and disease, skulls and pelvises could be examined to determine age and sex, and isotope analysis and ancient DNA study provided insight into diet, health and ancestry.

"These people lived on oases and we're really interested in looking at how people adapted to these harsh desert environments and also how they interacted with each other and other communities further away on these important trade routes during that time," she says.

Initial results have shown evidence of degenerative joint disease of the spine and other joints, even in young people, which indicates they had a heavy workload, she says.

"We found a number of healed fractures of the forearm and ribs, possibly suggesting interpersonal violence (defensive wounds) but also indicating a level of care within the community as these were well healed."

The dig site is one of the only High Medieval cemetery sites in Uzbekistan that have been excavated with a full bioarcheological analysis, and it was an honour to be given community permission to excavate the remains, she says.

"The local people were really excited that we were interested in the history in their village, so we want to prepare the results in local Uzbek language and make this in layman's terms so it can be given to the school and local community."

Dr Kinaston plans to publish her full results by June 2020.
For more information contact:
Dr Rebecca Kinaston
Department of Anatomy
School of Biomedical Sciences
Health Sciences
University of Otago
Ph: 03 470 4683
Mobile: +6427 393 4370
Email: rebecca.kinaston@anatomy.otago.ac.nz

Lydia Anderson
Communications adviser
University of Otago
Ph: 03 479 8200
Mobile: +6421 278 8200
Email: l.anderson@otago.ac.nz

University of Otago

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.