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Archaeologist discovers remains of disabled teenage girl

human remains of the disabled teenage girl

The ancient remains of a disabled teenage girl have been discovered as part of a research project at the Toca do Olho d'Água das Andorinhas excavation site, in Serra das Confusões national park, east-central Brazil.

A team from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, identified the skeleton belonging to a teen with spina bifida.

Despite not being able to pinpoint which year she died, they confirmed the body was from many years ago.

Tiago Tomé, a professor from Federal University, and his colleague professor Grégoire van Havre, from Universidade Federal do Piauí in the city of Teresina, northeastern Brazil, discovered the skeleton after extensive research of the region which commenced in 2019.

Tomé told Newsweek: "We still have no absolute dating for this finding. What we know is that it must be previous to the arrival of European colonization in that region, which happened roughly 300 to 350 years ago.

"She may be quite ancient, indeed, but we have no way of telling for now, since we are still waiting for the radiocarbon dating results," he added. "In short, we know she must be older than 300 years, but how much older, we have yet to determine. Nonetheless, she represents quite an interesting case."

The professor classed the discovery as an ‘interesting case’ because the teenage girl lived with the neural tube defect, Spina bifida.

"This condition can be present in multiple degrees of severity and, in her case, it was a very severe form of the disease. It's quite likely that she was unable to walk, thus meaning that she would have to be taken care of by the remaining people of her group," Tomé explained.

"This shows us that the notions we hold today surrounding the care for disabled people are not only not exclusive to our time, nor to Western societies. Indigenous peoples in Brazil were displaying that same behaviour before the arrival of colonialism," he added.

The girl was wearing what appeared to be a bracelet around her right arm, made out of 1,000 small beads. It is unclear what type of material the jewellery was made of, but according to Tomé it was probably seeds.

"Relatively close to her was the skull of a tapir, although we still need to clarify if there is actually a connection between these two finds," the professor added. 

The skeleton is being studied at the Laboratory of Osteoarchaeology at Universidade Federal do Piauí, by professor Claudia Cunha and her students. "She is also an essential part of the project, and her lab is dedicated to the study of human and animal remains," Tomé said.

[ In 550 BCE, Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire was the very first archaeologist. ]

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