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The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - BAJR - 17th June 2010

The York Archaeological Trust have set up this website.
The mystery of the headless Romans

During 2004 and 2005, York Archaeological Trust undertook excavations in advance of building work on two sites close to the line of one of the main roads out of the Roman town.
The archaeologists thought there would be Roman burials there, as Roman cemeteries were often placed alongside roads, and many Roman burials had been found in the area in the past.
What was found?

The excavations found 80 burials, of which 60 were mostly complete. Almost all were male, and the vast majority were adults. These people were an average of some 2cms taller than the average male from Roman Britain, and they were more heavily built. This is a very unusual type of population for a cemetery.

They have a poll to ask whether it was Religious, military, gladiators or not enough evidence.


Now to add my tuppence... and you know I am a staunch YAT supporter.. but!!!

The Channel 4 programme about it on Monday Gladiators: Back from the Dead

It had so many ... hmmm "thats a bit of a leap" moments, that had me reaching for occams razor to whittle it down to what we did know.

First thing that struck me was how the UCLAN boffins seemed to be the ones who had discovered all these fascinating facts.. the arms lengths, the bite marks the tooth evidence for birthplace of individuals... then a kindly soul pointed me to the original programme from 2006
The Timewatch: Mystery of the headless Romans.
here they are in 2006 :

There we discover that ... er..

Quote:To answer this question we needed to look into the teeth of the dead men. Scientist Janet Montgomery from Bradford University took one tooth from each of six skeletons. These were then analysed for their oxygen and strontium isotopes. The results were amazing the geological signatures told us that we had three men from Northern Europe, which includes Britain, one from the Alps, one from the Mediterranean, and the final one from north Africa.
So what was with the recent shots of UCLAN investigating er... six skeletons and finding out that "we had three men from Northern Europe, one from the Alps, one from the Mediterranean, and the final one from north Africa."

How curious..

as were the shackles.. and lets not overlook that for several months the human bone specialist Katie Tucker from the Trust had been making a detailed examination of every bone on every skeleton found at the site. I saw no mention of her work, though it seems she found the same marks, measurements etc..

Finally.. well there is quite a bit that annoyed me about the programme... from the 'FACT' that this was a gladiator graveyard from the start... was the amazing and credulity stretching remarkable coincidence that picking 6 random skellies (that remember had already been looked at 4 years before) represented 6 different gladiators... how lucky is that!

er... this one arms.. so must be er..this type of gladiator. etc.

Lion or big dog? it would have been better to have two canine marks to check the width of bite.

Anyway... the website allows for choice... though I would like more evidence... have a look at vote...

but if you put anything other than 'not enough evidence to decide" I'll come and chop yer head off! :face-kiss:

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - mpoole - 17th June 2010

Consider that it was C4, which is a commercial station that relies on shows for the hard-of-thinking. I'm amazed they used big words like 'gladiator' rather than 'cage fighter'.

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - Dinosaur - 17th June 2010

Having watched the programme through twice (the power of the VCR, bit juddery the second time though...) I'm still waiting for a single shred of evidence that any gladiators ever set foot in York. The 'Tiger victim' was particularly comical, of course a conical tooth is going to fit a round hole at some point along its length.....did we get pairs of holes with discussions about the spacing between them? Of course not. Otherwise all they presented was a selection of people who may (or may not) have had military training at some point in their lives (probably not uncommon in a major garrison city) and some evidence that some of them may have suffered sharp or blunt-force trauma peri-mortem (again not that uncommon). The guy who'd been decapitated....err...wasn't the original thing about that cemetery the large number of decaps? No evidence was presented to suggest whether the head came off peri- or post-mortem, so that was totally invalid evidence anyway. The geographical origins of the guys can't be put in context because until a lot more isotope analysis is done we can't say what's normal for a Roman urban cemetery population in Britain anyway - Lankhills has certainly been turning up some surprises, not seen any of the results yet for Catterick (anyone know if they're available anywhere?).

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - Comarch - 17th June 2010

We all know that many Roman graves sites have bodies with heads between the legs. No one suggest that they are gladiators. The chances of having an example of each type of gladiator in one cemetery is so small there is more chance of Unitof1 making a comprehensible statement!

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - BAJR - 17th June 2010

Glad it was not just me. I fear C4 took a story and .. ahem sexed it up...

THere was plenty of sweaty bodies.. but.. come on... how does a gladiator fight with manacles? and er.. as Dino says... I can match any conical tooth with the bite mark... if it ws a tiger, I would expect a serious amount of damage not just bone penetration... why not a carnivore / big dog either a British hunting dog? (famous for them we was) or a scavenger? raiding the grave. and why no mention of the previous work... I am sure UCLAN would agree it was a bit one sided... looking like they discovered all these things...

ah the joys of edit suites! Fess up C4 !

pps agree with all that dino says.... every last comma and vowel

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - Madweasels - 17th June 2010

First time caller - Hi everybody!

This thread reminds me of the way the a production company ran with the idea that MoLAS had found a female gladiator in one of their excavations in Southwark. Their specialists and MoL curators had put forward a number of possible interpretations (follower of specific religion, originated from another province with different burial customs, perhaps even a priestess), the female gladiator idea being a throw-away comment along the lines of 'and you never know, she could have been a female gladiator hah hah'. Problem was, the TV company dropped the 'hah hah' bit and ran with the female gladiator story. The rest is (false) history!

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - Wax - 17th June 2010

Since when has the truth got in the way of a good story for television?

I am sure we can all come up with several alternative and far more likely scenarios but not quite as sexy as gladiators. There must be many professions that give differential muscle development. It’s a shame the TV tends not to explore the various possibilities as I always find that much more interesting.

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - BAJR - 17th June 2010

Ta madweasal.. good first shout!

and @wax how true.. how true... wonder if YAT would comment... ? :face-stir:

Gladiators or... er... good PR?

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - Misty - 17th June 2010

Were there specialists in the Roman Army? That might account for the differential muscle development. Did the other 70 odd skeletons in the graveyard show similar traits - other than being mostly male and well developed? I was surprised they decided on a tiger bite so quickly - given that bears were still about in Britain at that time and I presume hunting accidents happened as they do figure in folklore. I was bitten by a Rottweiler once (long story) just above the ankle but although it was a full bite it didn't reach the bone - but I believe the Roman war dogs were bigger - so it could be a dog (or wolf, lion, leopard). I'd like to see more information on the other skeletons before I agree with the programme.

The mystery of the headless Romans ?? - BAJR - 17th June 2010

Good point about specialists... boatmen from teh Tigris.. punting and what about winding a ballista? etc......

this is quite a good lesson about letting imagination get in the way of what archaeology is about... Facts. However, to make us exciting the media/public want BIG, OLDEST, EXCITING, DANGEROUS etc