Italian news is reporting the discovery of the Lady of Introd, a 5,000-year-old skeleton found near the town of Aosta in the Alps, about half-way between Geneva and Turin. Not much has been said yet, and this appears to be the fullest extent of the reports (via La Stampa):
E' stata soprannominata la "Signora di Introd" e dopo 5000 anni la sua sepoltura è ancora perfetta. Lo scheletro di questa donna ancora misteriosa e ancora senza età, è stata ritrovato all’interno della propria tomba ad Introd, paese alpino di poco più di 600 abitanti, non lontano da Aosta. Rannicchiata sul fianco destro e con il capo rivolto a nord ovest, non ha attorno nessun oggetto di corredo funebre. I resti della signora sono già stati trasferiti in laboratorio, dove nei prossimi giorni saranno oggetto di analisi approfondite per determinarne l'età, le abitudini alimentari e la causa di morte. L’Assessore all’Istruzione e Cultura Laurent Viérin esprime“grande soddisfazione per questo importante ritrovamento, unico nel suo genere, che testimonia la ricchezza e la qualità del patrimonio archeologico valdostano e della nostra storia.”
The Lady of Introd (credit: AostaOggi)
Il ritrovamento è avvenuto durante i sondaggi archeologici per l’ampliamento della scuola materna di Introd, vicino alla chiesa, al castello e all'antico granaio. Al termine delle indagini su tutta l'area, il ritrovamento dello scheletro non porrà comunque alcun ostacolo alla realizzazione del previsto ampliamento scolastico. Il Soprintendente, l' architetto Roberto Domaine, sottolinea che “il compito della Soprintendenza è quello di garantire una tutela capillare dei Beni culturali in modo da acquisire tutte quelle conoscenze storiche che poi diventano patrimonio dell’intera comunità”.For those of you who don't read Italian, the 5,000-year-old skeleton was discovered recently in the tiny town of Introd (pop: 618), during excavation work to create an addition to a school. The skeleton has been assessed as female, and she was buried on her right side with her head facing west. No grave goods accompanied the burial. The skeleton has already been excavated and moved to a laboratory, where researchers propose to figure out age-at-death, diet, and possible causes or contributors to her death.
This area of the Italian Alps was occupied in historical times by the Salassi tribe. They were defeated and enslaved by the Romans, and the town became Augusta Praetorium Salassorum (now Aosta) in 25 BC. Prior to that, I don't know much about the area. If this skeleton can indeed be carbon-dated to the 3rd millennium BC (nowhere does it say how they assessed the skeleton at five millennia old!), it makes the Lady of Introd relatively contemporaneous with Oetzi the Iceman in the late Neolithic. A dietary analysis of the Lady of Introd would be quite interesting. Various dietary analyses done on Oetzi - whose last meals were quite well preserved - indicate he dined on a lot of meat, as well as einkorn wheat and barley (Dickson et al. 2000).
As I'm putting the finishing touches on my article on isotope analyses of the Imperial Roman diet, I've become quite interested in the differential consumption of wheat/barley and millet. Wheat and barley have a distinctly different carbon isotope signature than does millet, but few palaeodietary studies have been done to look at the prevalence of millet in the Italian peninsula and the differences among the populations that consumed it. By the Bronze Age in Italy, people from the far north of the Italian peninsula were eating their fair share of millet, particularly compared to their contemporaries in southern Italy (Tafuri et al. 2009). Even though quite a bit is known about the timing of the introduction of domesticated plants into Italy during the Neolithic, we still know little about the intensity of cultivation of various cereals. The diets of Oetzi and the Lady of Introd are therefore quite interesting primarily because they can provide direct evidence for differences in cereal consumption in the Neolithic. They are just two data points, but I hope the dietary analysis of the Lady of Introd reveals some interesting data to answer questions about Neolithic diets.
* Hat tip to Alessandra Cinti for posting this news story on Facebook.
UPDATE (7/20) - Rossella Lorenzi at Discovery News is the first to post in English about this find: Iceman's 'Girlfriend' Found. Coverage in other languages: La Tercera (Spanish); MMC (Slovenian).
Dickson JH, Oeggl K, Holden TG, Handley LL, O'Connell TC, & Preston T (2000). The omnivorous Tyrolean Iceman: colon contents (meat, cereals, pollen, moss and whipworm) and stable isotope analyses. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 355 (1404), 1843-9 PMID: 11205345.
Tafuri MA, Craig OE, & Canci A (2009). Stable isotope evidence for the consumption of millet and other plants in Bronze Age Italy. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139 (2), 146-53 PMID: 19051259.