This man drowned 5,000 years ago. How do we know this?

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The tomb was investigated in 2016 by another study author, University of Concepción anthropologist Pedro Andrade, who identified a skeleton there as likely to be that of a fisherman, due to wear and tear. bone consistent with frequent rowing and isotopic analysis which revealed a diet almost exclusively of seafood.

The male skeleton was nearly intact, but the cervical vertebrae were missing and had been replaced in the grave by large shells. The man also appears to have been buried with his arms pointing in different directions and one leg sticking out.

Goff says the skeleton was an ideal sample for a proof-of-concept trial of the diatom test on archaeological remains. “We knew this guy was a fisherman, because of his bone structure, and had a rather strange burial – so let’s see if he drowned in the sea,” he says.

Death by drowning

Goff and his colleagues made thousands of electron microscope images of the marrow inside the larger bones of Capoca 1’s skeleton, which were less likely to have been contaminated by outside elements after death.

Modern forensic diatom testing removes marrow from bone and adds chemicals to distinguish diatoms; but Goff’s modification preserves the pith in place and uses fewer chemicals, meaning other marine particles besides diatoms are also preserved. Curiously, the researchers found no fossilized diatoms in the skeleton of Copaca 1 – the exact reason is unclear, and Goff expects to see them in the marrow of other former drowning victims – but they did find other types of marine fossils from algae, parasite eggs and sediments that the standard diatom test would not have detected, he says.

Although the search team has now established that the fisherman died by drowning, researchers have found no such signs in two other sets of human remains found nearby. So they think it’s likely the man died in a fishing accident, rather than an ancient tsunami.

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