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'Hitra man' lived 4,000 years ago during the late Stone Age

In 1916, a remarkable discovery was made during a road construction project on the island of Hitra in Norway. As workers were upgrading a road using gravel from the shore along Barmfjorden, they stumbled upon human bones amidst the sand and stones. These bones belonged to a man who had lived and died in Hitra approximately 4,000 years ago, at the very end of the Stone Age.

“We think that he drowned. When he died, the sea level was 12.5 meters higher than it is today, and the discovery site would have been at a depth of 4 meters,” explains archaeologist Birgitte Skar from NTNU University Museum.

“Parts of the skeleton are well preserved, and must have been covered with shell sand on the seabed shortly after he died.”

Clues to Hitra man’s identity

Alongside the skeletal remains, a dagger and an arm guard were found. The arm guard, an oblong piece of bone with two holes, would have been attached to the wrist of the hand holding a bow, protecting it from the blow of the bow string when firing arrows.

“These pieces of equipment may indicate he was a warrior,” says Skar, although she notes that it is impossible to determine whether his drowning was the result of combat or an accident.

Turbulent Stone Age era

The Hitra man lived during a period of significant change in Norway. Up until that point, most people lived as hunter-gatherers, with agriculture only becoming fully established in Norway during the late Stone Age.

“Elements of agriculture had been introduced in southern and eastern Norway earlier, but in central Norway, along the coast in the west and in northern Norway, agriculture was first established during this period,” Skar explains.

The introduction of agriculture is believed to have been brought about by migrating people who arrived in Norway seeking more land, and were willing to use weapons to obtain it.

“We must therefore expect that there were violent clashes between the people who already lived here and the newcomers,” Skar adds.

New way of life

These new settlers brought with them not only knowledge of animal husbandry and agriculture but also a different way of organizing society.

“They lived in hierarchical societies, had a different understanding of the world, another religion, and a large network of contacts down in Europe. This knowledge led to major changes, politically, economically and socially,” Skar explains.

Ongoing research

Much remains unknown about this dramatic era in Scandinavian history, and research is ongoing. The Hitra man is part of this research, along with many other skeletal discoveries.

His DNA is currently being analyzed at the Lundbeck Foundation Center for Geogenetics at the University of Copenhagen, while isotope analysis conducted at NTNU University Museum provides insight into his diet and potential migration patterns.

“We already know that the vast majority of the food he ate came from the land. So even though he was found on Hitra — in a place that was underwater at the time — it wasn’t primarily seafood he ate,” Skar reveals.

Recreating the past

Using skeletal measurements, researchers have determined that the Hitra man was approximately 169 cm tall and around 25 years old at the time of his death, based on wear and tear on his teeth.

His appearance has been recreated at NTNU University Museum using DNA analyses of other individuals from the same period with similar DNA to determine the color of his hair, skin, and eyes.

Hitra man’s legacy

In summary, the discovery of the Hitra man and the ongoing research surrounding his life and death offer a fascinating glimpse into a pivotal moment in Norway’s history.

As scientists continue to analyze his DNA, study his skeletal remains, and piece together the clues left behind, we gain a deeper understanding of the complex social, political, and economic changes that shaped the region 4,000 years ago.

The Hitra man’s story serves as a reminder that even the most seemingly insignificant discoveries can hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of our past, connecting us to the lives and experiences of those who came before us, and enriching our understanding of the world we inhabit today.

The full study was published at NTNU University Museum.


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