We have found an 8,000 frog bones buried in a prehistoric site. And we don’t know how they got there

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When an archaeologist grabs his bag, notebook, chisel, and scraper and goes out into the field hunting for remains, one of the best things that can happen to him is locating bones that are a few millennia old. That, exactly, is what has happened to the experts of the Museum of London Archeology (MOLA) who took on the task of surveying a plot of land north of Cambridge affected by road improvement works. Digging into the ground with their shovels, they located a 14-meter strip full of discolored and splintered bones. The problem: it was not human.

What the London experts found was a jumble of hundreds, thousands of amphibian shards yellowed by the passage of centuries. To be more precise, they unearthed more than 8,000 bones which, once sorted and catalogued, were associated with 350 copies, mostly frogs and toads of common species. A rare finding, with no apparent explanation, that made the experts shrug their shoulders and look at each other with an expression of “So what?”

Now they are trying to find a plausible explanation for a mystery that, at least apparently, has neither head nor tail: What the hell are so many frog skeletons doing in a ditch? 14 meters long located near an old circular house several thousand years old? How do you explain such a necropolis of batrachians in a settlement of the Middle and Late Iron Age, more or less between 400 BC and 43 AD? Is there any reasonable explanation?

Hunted or hunters?

David Clode Ozjdnv99bgu Unsplash

With more unknowns than certainties, MOLA researchers have dedicated themselves to launching theories —for now just that, hypotheses— that can be consulted at his official Twitter profile.

They have already put half a dozen hypotheses on the table, some complementary to each other but always dire for the mysterious batrachians: that our ancestors had feasted on frog legs with them, that the animals arrived attracted by the food, that they ended up perishing in the ditch during their migrations or, simply, that they were struck down by some virus.

The first possibility is “unlikely”, but the archaeologists themselves acknowledge that it cannot be ruled out. “Frog consumption in Britain dates back to the Stone Age, but these bones show no trace of cooking or cut marks. There is also no sign that these frogs have been eaten by mammals or birds,” experts ponder. It would remain, however, the possibility that before giving the banquet of legs their cooks boiled them, which would explain why thousands of years later they do not present any trace that reveals that they have been cooked and eaten.

In MOLA’s detective work, the second theory takes on more force. In the surroundings, archaeologists located charred grains that could reveal that they were taking care of crops, which could have attracted insects such as beetles or aphids… and frogs that tried to eat them. “Could this be an explanation?”, experts ponder.

There would be another possibility, much more romantic and with dramatic overtones, and that is that the skeletons were related to some “ancient frog tragedy”. Which? In MOLA they raise several possibilities: that the animals fell into the ditch while migrating, that they died during hibernation or even that they perished due to disease. It would not be the first time. In the 1980s the batrachian population of the United Kingdom already suffered from the effects of a devastating virus.

Does any of these theories hit the nail on the head?

Did something else happen? Did frogs have a special value? In ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian, Mesopotamian or Greek, they were associated, for example, with fertility.

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At the moment the researchers have not been able to clarify it and continue to think about why so many piled bones have appeared in a 14-meter strip of Bar Hill. “Having so many bones in a ditch is extraordinary,” confess to the newspaper Guardian Dr. Vicki Ewens. During the excavations, which took place between 2016 and 2018 in a plot affected by the improvement of the National Highways A14, the experts also located human remains and different artifacts.

The question remains whether they will be able to unravel the mystery of the 8,000 frog bones.

Cover Image | Chris Luczkow (Flickr) Y David Clode (Unsplash)

When an archaeologist grabs his bag, notebook, chisel, and scraper and goes out into the field hunting for remains, one…

When an archaeologist grabs his bag, notebook, chisel, and scraper and goes out into the field hunting for remains, one…

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