Ancient English cemetery of 'exotic headless Romans' found in York

Last Updated: Sat, Oct 30, 2010 09:50 hrs

Archaeologists have stumbled upon an ancient English cemetery in York, which is filled with headless skeletons, some of which belong to 'exotic' locations.

Almost all the bodies are males, and more than half of them had been decapitated, although many were buried with their detached heads.

"The headless Romans are very different [physically] than other people from York. They come from all over the place. Some of them are quite exotic," National Geographic News quoted Gundula MÃŒldner of the University of Reading in the U.K, as saying.

The rest of the men came from elsewhere in England or mainland Europe, possibly from France, Germany, the Balkans, or the Mediterranean.

Traces of carbon and nitrogen show that five of the headless Romans ate very different foods from York's local population. And two individuals had a carbon signature from a group of food plants-including sorghum, sugarcane, and maize-not known to have been cultivated in England at that time.

The archaeologist noted that "the Romans were not very fond of millet, and often, when they established a new province, other cereals such as wheat would replace millet as the principally grown crop."

As for what the men were doing in York, MÃŒldner's team believes that the ancient city had a large Roman garrison, and the skeletons show injuries consistent with armed combat.

It's possible the men were soldiers who had been executed, or who had been killed during battle and had their corpses-with or without heads-recovered for burial by their compatriots.

In fact, some skeletons' unequal arm development-associated with the specialized use of single-handed weapons-and, on one skeleton, tooth marks from a large carnivore, possibly a gladiatorial lion or bear, suggested that they may have been gladiators too.

Solving the puzzle of who the headless Romans were will require further bone analysis and forensic studies, due to be completed in about a year, he added.

The new study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. (ANI)

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