Archaeologists find mysterious Iron Age ‘frog graveyard’ in England

(ORDO NEWS) — The bones of several hundred amphibians at once ended up in one place: either the frogs and toads fell into a natural trap, or they were simply eaten.

Archaeologists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure have been excavating ahead of refurbishment and widening of a highway in Cambridgeshire, UK.

In the village of Bar Hill, they found a round house that people used during the Middle and Late Iron Age (400-43 BC).

Along the western part of the wall of the house there was a ditch 14 meters long. In it, the researchers found almost 700 kilograms of bones of domestic animals, as well as eight thousand bones of amphibians – toads and frogs.

Now the analysis is still underway, but it has already been determined that there were bones of at least 350 amphibians in the ditch.

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Bones of toads and frogs

While archaeological finds of frog bones are not uncommon, the sheer number of remains concentrated in one place is a mystery.

The fact that their bones ended up in the same place as the bones of livestock suggests food. The fact is that although eating frog legs in the mass consciousness is strongly associated with French cuisine, the oldest traces of eating these animals were found in Britain. And long before the advent of French cuisine, and of France itself.

Almost nine years ago, during excavations at the Mesolithic site of Bleek Mead, archaeologists found a charred and eaten frog leg.

The find was dated eight thousand years ago. She was among the bones of deer, boars, fish – that is, among food waste. It was concluded that the inhabitants of the Mesolithic island ate amphibians quite well.

Of course, a lot of time passed between Bleek Mead and the round house of the Iron Age. The people who lived in the house are no longer hunter-gatherers, but rather farmers and herders. In addition, no traces left during cooking have yet been found on the bones of Iron Age frogs.

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General view of the excavations

However, the latter does not guarantee that the amphibians were not eaten, because they could simply be boiled, and then separate the meat with their hands so that it would not leave marks on the bones. But this is just a guess.

There are also no visible signs that this accumulation of frog remains was caused by eating them by birds or small mammals. If that were the case, the bones would also show teeth marks, beak marks, or signs of digestion.

If Bar Hill’s frogs weren’t prey, then could they be predators, drawn to this particular location by the promise of food? Not far from the investigated round house, archaeologists found charred grain.

Apparently, the people who lived in the settlement processed grain there, and this occupation was sure to attract pests. Among them could be beetles and aphids, which feed on frogs.

But even if the frogs came for food, it is not entirely clear why they died en masse in one place. Scientists offer several options for solving this ancient frog tragedy.

Frogs are known to move in large numbers in the spring in search of breeding grounds. The frogs found at Bar Hill may have fallen into the ditch of the roundhouse during this migration and then failed to get out.

The unusual mortality may also have been caused by winter hardships. Wintering frogs sometimes hide in the silt at the bottom of ponds and ditches. Although they usually resurface in the spring, extreme cold can sometimes kill them.

This may have been the fate of some of the frogs at Bar Hill during a particularly cold winter. Or they died of illness.

There remains one more hypothesis. It is connected with the fact that the bones of toads and frogs were among the remains of domestic animals. The latter obviously fell into the ditch with the help of people.

Could the inhabitants of the settlement perform rituals that would include the sacrifice of amphibians? Of course, they could, although we usually associate such practices with alchemy and its black magic currents.

But if a similar ceremony was performed by people of the Iron Age, then archaeologists have not yet found any evidence of this. Including equally large-scale “frog cemeteries” near other settlements.

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