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Bones tell ancient tales

Woman used teeth for work

Bhubaneswar, March 28: Anthropology experts at Utkal University today revealed that the second skeleton excavated from the Copper Age site at Banga on the city outskirts was at least 3,500 years old.

They said it was of a 30-35-year-old female, who had a slender body and was about five-feet tall.

While the bones did not show any signs of infection and there was no injury, the study of its teeth displayed low oral hygiene as the experts found several cavities in the crown of many teeth. It was also evident that besides chewing food, the woman might have used her teeth for other activities such as making crafts.

Human skeletal biology expert Veena Mushrif-Tripathy from Deccan College, Pune, who studied the skeleton, said: “A few teeth show complete obliteration of the crown or the top portion of the teeth.”

She also said that the teeth marks suggested processing of fibre or some occupation-related activities that might have caused these drastic damages to the teeth. Though the profession could not be ascertained for sure, the woman could have been doing a job such as making bamboo craft.

Radiological studies of the skull bones also suggested that the female was suffering from iron deficiency. “Even today, we encounter many women suffering from iron deficiency this proves the antiquity of the problem as the skeleton is nearly 3,500-4,000 years old,” she said.

“Interestingly, the first male skeleton to have been excavated from the Banga site in February last year had one of its legs chopped off. But in the female skeleton, the leg bones are intact and this could be linked to different burial practices related to gender,” said K.K. Basa, professor of anthropology at Utkal University.

Basa, a former director of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, said: “The discovery of a baby’s skeleton from an artefact discovered last year from the site also proved that pot burial, apart from extended burials with and without feet, were all in practice for a long time near the site.”

The female skeleton had also developed a squatting facet. “Squatting facet is generally seen in skeletons of South Asian regions where people tend to use squatting as a regular sitting posture. This could be related to pottery-making or similar activity. This skeletal development is not seen in western skeletal studies because the people there are more used to furniture,” said an anthropologist.

Utkal University’s anthropology department head Sabita Acharya assured that the excavation work would continue at Banga so that more and more information could be collected and students get hands-on exposure in excavation-related studies.

The excavation at the Banga site was directed by R.K. Mohanty, professor of archaeology at Deccan College, Pune, Basa and Sunil Patnaik, secretary of the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies.