Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Special Report: Europe's First Mummies Volume 56 Number 5, September/October 2003
by David Keys

Surprising evidence that ancient Britons also preserved their dead

At first, nothing appeared to be unusual about two human skeletons excavated on Scotland's Outer Hebrides until tests showed the individuals had died up to 500 years before they were buried. Forensic analysis now indicates they were mummified by being placed in a peat bog. The bodies, found at the site of a 3,000-year-old house at Cladh Hallan on South Uist Island, provide the first evidence that prehistoric Europeans mummified their dead.

"This is likely to redefine key aspects of life and death in prehistoric society," says excavation director Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University. "It suggests that ancestors were even more central to ancient belief systems than we had previously thought."

David Keys is an archaeology correspondent for the London newspaper The Independent and is the author of Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (Random House, 2000). For more information on the Cladh Hallan site, visit

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America