Due to soil conditions survival of human remains is rare in the region but there have been some nationally significant burials discovered. Thanks to detailed analysis, these are revealing evidence for medical conditions suffered and interpersonal violence. Where human remains survive, they present research potential through analysis of the bone, giving a picture of past lifestyles and population health. Further isotope analysis can indicate diet and place of origin.

A current PhD project is examining skeletons from Norton Priory and Portmahomack, Scotland (Curtis-Summers 2015). Some of the results have been published including a paper on the study of a 13th century adult male, who displayed evidence for sharp force trauma. It seems likely the individual was Sir Geoffery de Dutton (d. 1248), a wealthy knight and benefactor of the priory, he was found to have been cut by a blade, between the right shoulder and the spine (Curtis -Summers 2016 et al, 113). The injury was probably caused by a sword peri-mortem and was almost certainly the cause of death. The individual also showed evidence of Paget’s disease which may have slowed down their movement (Curtis-Summers et al 2016, 116) (Fig. 27).

At Poulton (Ch) over 2000 burials are suspected and some are likely to predate the chapel some have been the subject of scientific analysis. Arm bones from the skeletal assemblage have recently been compared with a group from Gloucestershire to assess the suitability of a method for determining the gender of individuals from the thickness of the clavicle (Martin et al 2016). The Poulton burials are also providing material for researchers at Liverpool John Moore University, who are undertaking a range of projects focused on palaeodemography.

A recent discovery of an undisturbed burial during rescue work at Furness Abbey (C) revealed the first crozier to be excavated in England in the last 50 years. The burial was of an overweight man aged 40-50 with arthritis and possibly type two diabetes. He was buried within the presbytery with a silver gilt crozier and a ring, which suggests a late medieval burial, although the crozier appears to have elements from the 12th century (Fig 28). The presbytery is not a usual site for the burial of a clergyman and was often reserved for wealthy patrons. One suggestion is that the body may be that of a Bishop of Mann or a member of a donor family (Rowland 2012, 6-7).

Excavations at Tower Wharf, Chester (Ch) discovered three unusual internments, two of possible Roman date and one which was dated to cal AD1460-1640 (95.4% probability) (Towle 2013). It lay in an area of non-consecrated ground and was decapitated with the skull placed under the crouched body, suggesting it was that of a criminal although there are some reservations with this (Towle 2013, 39).

Another set of unusual late medieval burials were that of a male and female discovered in the outer ward of Halton Castle (Ch) during community excavations. Radiocarbon dating shows the individuals died at least 50 -100 years apart; despite being located no more than 1m apart. The male skeleton dated to cal AD 1425-1475 with the female dated to cal AD 1525-1665, although the latter is likely to be within the earlier part of the date range. Burial within the precinct of a castle is rare and the best explanation may be that they were within a chapel that is known from documentary sources.

Halton Castle skeletons (courtesy of Salford Archaeology)

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