Handless Man Adds Further Intrigue to the Island of the Medieval Porpoise Grave
Archaeologists in the Channel Islands (part of the United Kingdom) made a baffling discovery recently. They discovered the handless skeleton of a man on one of the rocky islets located in the English Channel. This is the second mysterious find in this location, raising all sorts of questions about early beliefs. Previously a porpoise was found buried very near to where the handless man has now been unearthed. The curious finds have created an aura of mystery around the significance of this place and just what might have been going on there in the past.
Monastic isle holds baffling secrets
A team of local government archaeologists were working on the tiny rocky outcrop known as Chapelle dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, directly across from a site that is believed to have been a Stone Age burial site. The Channel Islands have a very long Christian monastic tradition, during the Middle Ages, that lasted until the Reformation. There was a large Benedictine monastery on Guernsey and many of the monks would retreat to Chapelle dom Hue for more solitude, so that they could be nearer God. Archaeologists led by Paul de Jersey were investigating the islet for traces of these monks, when they made the remarkable discovery.
The skeleton was found in varying states of preservation. (Youtube Screenshot)
The mysterious handless skeleton
As the team were working in one area of the island, bad weather exposed something interesting. They examined it and determined that it was a human toe bone. Intrigued, the experts began to dig, and they found an almost complete male skeleton, but which had no hands and whose skulls was damaged. They found types of buttons that would strongly indicate that the man came from the 16 or 17 th centuries. The Guardian quotes the head of the team as stating, “the body was oriented roughly east to west, suggesting a Christian burial.”
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The skeleton was almost complete but had no hands. (Youtube Screenshot)
The experts were astonished by what they had found because apart from the missing hands it was in a good condition. One theory according to Live Science was that the remains may “have been that of a monk who had suffered from leprosy, which might account for the missing wrists and hands.” Those who suffered from leprosy often lost hands and feet as the disease progressed. However, by the time this man had died, leprosy had vanished from most of Europe and moreover, his feet were in perfect condition.
The current theory proposed by the experts is that the handless man was a sailor who drowned at sea and who washed up on the island and was given a Christian burial by some locals. The missing hands could be explained by the fact that fish may have eaten the hands away, something which can happen to those who drown in the sea. The man’s feet could be intact because they were hidden in shoes, that have long since decayed. While the damage to the skull may have been caused by the drowned man hitting the rocks on the shore of Chapelle dom Hue.
The enigmatic burial of a dolphin
However, the find is no more than 90 feet (28 meters) from the unexplained burial of a porpoise, that was unearthed on the rocky outcrop in 2017 . The sea-mammal was buried in a shallow grave and tests indicated that it ‘dated to between 1416 and 1490’ reports CNN, when monks still used the islet as a place of refuge.
Porpoise was found on the same islet a year ago. (Youtube Screenshot)
The question arose as to why the porpoise was buried, even though it would have been so easy to return it to the sea. It has been suggested that the mammal may have been preserved in salt and buried so that it could be eaten later but was forgotten by some monks. LiveScience reports that it is possible that mammal ‘had some sort of religious significance to the people who used the island’.
The latest discoveries are adding to the archaeological significance of the islet in the English Channel. The identity of the handless man and why he had not any hands may never be truly known. Then is there a link between the burial of the handless skeleton with the mysterious porpoise burial ? What is clear is that the tiny islet is now a place of mystery and who knows what other remarkable finds could be made, in the future on Chapelle dom Hue.
Top image: Skeletal remains of a handless man found just off Guernsey. Source: Guernsey Archaeology (Youtube Screenshot)
By Ed Whelan