World news: discoveries in Borneo, Spain, and Micronesia

A round-up of some of the latest archaeological news from across the globe.

Ancient amputation discovered in Borneo

Image: Tim Maloney

Recent analysis of fossilised human remains – found during excavations at Liang Tebo in East Kalimantan, Borneo, in 2020 – has revealed evidence of one of the earliest limb amputations yet identified. Dating to between 31,000 and 30,000 years ago, the lower left leg of the individual – whose sex could not be determined morphologically – is missing, with both the tibia and fibula displaying clean cut-marks. Such a pattern is more indicative of the limb having been removed surgically than through an accidental injury.

While the person was probably 19-20 years old at the time of death, the injury was fully healed, suggesting that the leg was most likely removed years earlier, possibly during childhood. The fact that this individual not only survived such a procedure but also lived for a number of years afterwards, shows both the advanced technologies that must have been available to the hunter-gatherer populations of Borneo at this time, and the degree of care they showed to others in their group.

Major megalithic site in Spain

Ongoing excavations of a vast megalithic complex in southern Spain indicate that it could be one of the largest known in Europe. First discovered during archaeological survey work back in 2018, the site – known as La Torre-La Janera – has since been found to cover an area of c.600ha near the Guadiana River in the province of Huelva.

So far, a diverse group of megalithic structures have been found there, including at least 526 menhirs, or standing stones. A number of funerary structures have also been discovered, including dolmens, stone cists, and burial mounds. Archaeological investigation of the site will continue until at least 2026, and hopefully more will be revealed about this ancient monumental landscape.

Ancient octopus lure

Recent analysis of unusual artefacts found in the Mariana Islands of western Micronesia has identified them as octopus lures.

These objects are made of cowrie shells, which come from a type of sea snail known to be favoured by octopuses. It is thought that the shells would have been attached by a fibre cord to a stone sinker and hook in order to attract and catch octopuses. Dated to sometime between 1500 and 1100 BC, the only other similar artefacts – seven possible octopus lures discovered on the islands of Tinian and Saipan – have been radiocarbon dated to between 1500 and 500 BC, making these Mariana Island examples the oldest octopus lures yet discovered.