Chapter

Identifying the Origins of Decapitated Male Skeletons from 3 Driffield Terrace, York, Through Isotope Analysis

Janet Montgomery and Christopher J. Knüsel

in The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780813035567
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813041766 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813035567.003.0006
Identifying the Origins of Decapitated Male Skeletons from 3 Driffield Terrace, York, Through Isotope Analysis

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Excavations on the Mount, York (UK), revealed part of a large Roman period cemetery containing the remains of 80 individuals, 48 of whom had been decapitated from behind, and their heads placed in graves with the rest of the body. This practice has been previously encountered only sporadically in cemeteries of the period. However, the burials do not represent a normal attritional cemetery population: bioarchaeological investigations indicate that these were Roman soldiers (no females and only six subadults were present) stationed at a legionary fortress. To investigate whether the cemetery contained individuals whose origins were as unusual as the cemetery population profile, six adult males were subjected to lead, strontium and oxygen isotope analysis: four decapitated and two non-decapitated. Results indicate that they derived from varying climatic and geological environs and experienced differing levels and sources of pollution during childhood. Two were British in origin, but the remaining four likely originated from elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Moreover, the location of the burials on the highest point in the area and on a main route to an urban center indicate the men were of a higher social status whose mode and manner of death befitted their status.

Keywords: isotope analysis; Roman burial; decapitation cemetery; origins; Driffield Terrace

Chapter.  12334 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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