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Thousands of ancient frog bones found at Cambridgeshire site



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Archaeologists have discovered more than 8,000 amphibian bones by an Iron Age roundhouse at Bar Hill.

The common frog. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping
The common frog. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping

This highly unusual discovery - it is rare to find many ancient amphibian bones in such a small area - has led archaeologists to review the evidence and to explore possible causes for this mysterious occurrence.

Researchers from MOLA Headland Infrastructure studying archaeological finds from along the National Highways A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme have recovered almost 700kg of animal bones from the site.

Excavated between 2016 and 2018, the settlement was in use from the Iron Age to the early Roman period (c 400 BC-AD 70).

Aerial view of the archaeological site excavated at Bar Hill. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure
Aerial view of the archaeological site excavated at Bar Hill. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure
Plan of the archaeological site excavated at Bar Hill. The settlement where the frog bones were discovered is marked in orange. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure
Plan of the archaeological site excavated at Bar Hill. The settlement where the frog bones were discovered is marked in orange. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure

The sheer quantity of finds unearthed during the archaeological work on the A14 means analyses are still ongoing, even though excavations have now concluded. As was to be expected, most of the ancient bones recovered during the dig were domestic animals, especially cattle.

However, during their analysis zooarchaeologists (ancient animal bone specialists) also identified a surprisingly high number of frog and toad bones.

Mola zooarchaeologist Dr Vicki Ewens analysing the frog bones found at Bar Hill. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping
Mola zooarchaeologist Dr Vicki Ewens analysing the frog bones found at Bar Hill. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping

Dr Vicki Ewens, senior archaeozoologist at MOLA, said: “This is a puzzling and unexpected find, which we are still trying to fully understand. This accumulation of frog remains may have been caused by a number of different factors, possibly interacting over a long period of time. We just aren’t sure yet what these were.”

Some of the frog bones found at Bar Hill in Cambridgeshire where frog bones were found. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure
Some of the frog bones found at Bar Hill in Cambridgeshire where frog bones were found. Picture: Mola Headland Infrastructure
The common frog. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping
The common frog. Picture: Mola/Andy Chopping

As archaeologists continue to review the evidence, more data will become available. While this is helping to better understand human occupation in Cambridgeshire through millennia, it also will reveal more about local fauna in the past.

Hopefully, this new knowledge will shed light on the reasons behind the death of so many amphibians. Until then, this will remain a prehistoric frog mystery.

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