Headwaters and Hacksaws

Today I divided my time between the Materials lab and the Osteoarchaeology lab. A day of microscopes. In the morning I wrestled with representing the analysis of archaeometals thin sections while the afternoon was taken up in a blur of action resulting from a skull I brought into the Department. I had been in Bakewell on Tuesday visiting the Peak District National Park Authority offices when by chance Ben Lambert, one of the employees, brought in part of a skull he found on the River Wye while walking his dog. I offered to show it to Andrew Chamberlain at the Department and within three hours Andrew and Tom, one of his PhD students, were able to make some fascinating statements about the person, how they had died and where it had lain for centuries or even millennia. It provided an exciting opportunity to create a photo documentary study of the analysis of ancient human remains.

The photographs are in the Headwaters Gallery.

Just with a visual inspection Andrew was able to say it was at least several hundred years old, was probably male and was a mature adult but not too old. The inside of the skull was in good condition while the outside had surface wear. Andrew thought this might show the skull had been protected in a riverside until flood waters dislodged it, and as a complete skull it floated down the river until hitting something that broke it open.

By looking at it under a microscope he could see cut marks across the front of the skull typical of scalping, and that one of the marks was covered with a piece of tufa* adhered to the bone.It looks like this male had been scalped and buried in either a cave or a riverside bank formed out of tufa deposits.

Andrew immediately took a thin section which Tom looked at under another microscope. Tom was looking for the evidence that the bone had been attacked by bacteria or fungi after burial. Bacteria would suggest a rotting body while fungi could suggest that the bones had been buried in a damp location. Tom could see that it had been home to fungi but not bacteria implying that it had been buried once the flesh had been removed, possibly in a cave or under water. This was consistent with the man being scalped and placed in a cave or a void in a tufa bank.


Define:tufa a soft porous rock consisting of calcium carbonate deposited from springs and rivers rich in lime and as stalagtites and stalagmites in caves.


About Bill Bevan

Bill Bevan is an archaeologist, writer, photographer and heritage interpreter.
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One Response to Headwaters and Hacksaws

  1. Pingback: Walking Against the Flow | Bill Bevan Leverhulme Artist Residence Sheffield

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