‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study
Cist, Beaker, Human remains, Flint implement, Animal bone
Achavanich; Caithness; Highland; Scotland; UK
This contribution describes the discovery and subsequent investigation of a cist in a rock-cut pit at Achavanich, Highland. Discovered and excavated in 1987, the cist was found to contain the tightly contracted skeletal remains of a young woman, accompanied by a Beaker, three flint artefacts and a cattle scapula. Initial post excavation work established a date for the skeleton together with details of her age and sex, and preliminary pollen analysis of sediments attaching to the Beaker was undertaken. The findings were never fully published and, upon the death of the excavator, Robert Gourlay, the documentary archive was left in the Highland Council Archaeology Unit. Fresh research in 2014–17, initiated and co-ordinated by the first-named author and funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland with assistance from National Museums Scotland, the Natural History Museum and Harvard Medical School, has produced a significant amount of new information on the individual and on some of the items with which she was buried. This new information includes two further radiocarbon dates, a more detailed osteological report, isotopic information pertaining to the place where she had been raised and to her diet, histological information on the decomposition of her body, and genetic information that sheds light on her ancestry, her hair, eye and skin colour and her intolerance of lactose. (This is the first time that an ancient DNA report has been published in the Proceedings.) Moreover, a facial reconstruction adds virtual flesh to her bones. The significance of this discovery within the Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age of this part of Scotland is discussed, along with the many and innovative ways in which information on this individual, dubbed ‘Ava’, has been disseminated around the world.
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