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New Testing Method Reveals Medieval Walls in Spain Contain Bits of Bone

In a macabre discovery fit for Indiana Jones, archaeologists in Spain unearthed a 14th century brick oven with a unique role to bake bones.

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In a macabre discovery fit for Indiana Jones, archaeologists in Spain unearthed a 14th century brick oven with a unique role — to bake bones. Scientists report that the animal bones were burnt in the oven and mixed with other materials to produce a protective coating to strengthen the grand medieval walls of what is today Granada, Spain. In a study scheduled to appear in Analytical Chemistry, scientists describe how they found these materials thanks to a powerful new testing method.
 
Carolina Cardell and colleagues point out that ancient decorative and protective layers, or patinas, covering the outside of very old buildings have been subject of many analyses in archaeology, conservation and chemistry. Patinas have been a popular finishing for building exteriors and walls for aesthetic and protective reasons since ancient times. “However, the results of this work are significant for archaeologists since this is the first report of burnt bones in a patina on a Muslim monument, as well as the archaeological artifacts — the oven and raw materials — used to produce them,” says Cardell.

Using a novel new method to identify the components of historical artifacts, the team found hydroxyapatite, the main component in bone pigments and animal bones, in the patina of Granada’s medieval walls. Their new test is inexpensive, identifies chemicals more accurately and — most importantly — does not harm the historical artifacts.