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Two graves with mutilated skeletons found

Archaeologists in the UK Find Two Mutilated Skeletons

According to The Guardian newspaper, archaeologists in the UK have made a grisly discovery. They have found the graves of two men who have had their lower legs detached at an archaeological site in Cambridgeshire. The graves discovered are among many found at a huge archaeological site that is being explored prior to development. Although the perpetrators of the severing of the limbs is unknown, as is the motive, the finds are raising important questions for archaeologists about behavior during the Roman to Saxon era.

UK’s biggest archaeological project

The skeletons, with the lower limbs chopped off or removed at the knees and then re-positioned above their shoulders before being buried, have been unearthed by archaeologists working in an area where the A14 motorway is going to be expanded.

According to the Cambridge Independent , ‘some 250 archaeologists worked through the gruelling winter to uncover some fascinating history at one of the largest excavations to ever take place in the UK’. They have uncovered 6000 years of occupied sites , that date from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. The teams of archaeologists have unearthed many exciting discoveries such as Roman jewelry and, remarkably, an Iron Age timber ladder.

Complete ceramic Roman flask with painted line decoration. ©Highways Commission, courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Complete ceramic Roman flask with painted line decoration. ©Highways Commission, courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Enigmatic Burials

The archaeologists working on the huge project discovered the two graves during these excavations.  Along with the men’s lower legs being cut-off, their skulls had been smashed - but this may have occurred when the graves were later disturbed. The two skeletons were placed at right angles to each other in an area that once had been a gravel pit, that had been used as a garbage dump. Experts believe that the graves can be dated to the Late Roman or the early Saxon period.  It is not known if the men had their legs chopped off before or after they died, but it is almost certain that they died violently.

Unusual Roman era burial. Image: ©Highways Commission, courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Unusual Roman era burial. Image: ©Highways Commission, courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Some fifty meters (164 feet) from the graves, archaeologists found a well from the Roman period, and here they had earlier found a skeleton that had been cut in two. It is believed that an important Roman road is buried beneath the A14 motorway. The area where the finds were made seemed to have been a vast enclosure where agriculture was carried out.  There is no evidence of large-scale buildings from the era and this is seen as providing evidence that this area was used for large-scale farming.

Kasia Gdnaniec, the senior archaeologist with the local Cambridge county council states that the reasons for the mutilation of the two men are not known.   She raises the possibility that their legs had been removed because of some religious belief, “was it to keep them in their graves and stop them from running away?” reports The Guardian .  The archaeologist also believes that the two men may have had their legs cut off to prevent them from escaping or as an example to others not to try to escape.

Slaves Made an Example?

Gdaniec believes that the site was an important agricultural area and that it was possibly worked by slaves. This may explain the reason why these men, along with the discovery in the well, were mutilated in such a barbaric way. Such treatment of slaves was not uncommon.  The possibility has been raised by Gdaniec and others that the Romans arrived and subjugated the local people thus transforming local society. The discovery could indicate that the Romans brought organized violence and enslavement to the indigenous British population, but more corroborating evidence is required to make such a conclusion.  However, it is very possible that the skeletons were the victims of the Romans and they were slaves working on a massive farm owned by the conquerors.

Further examinations of the skeletons are expected to provide more evidence that will help experts to understand the enigmatic burials. One of the skeletons has teeth that are well preserved and both skeletons’ bones are in relatively good condition. This will allow for the accurate dating of the remains and trace their likely origin. However, these tests will not help us to understand the beliefs and the motives for the men’s mutilation and why they were discarded in a garbage dump.

Top image: Two graves with mutilated skeletons found Source: MOLA Headland Infrastructure

By Ed Whelan

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