Dr Williams has a background in forensic anthropology. She has a PhD in Forensic Anthropology from Sheffield University and joined Cranfield University at the Shrivenham Campus in 2004 as a post doctorial researcher working on the determination of age at death from bone for forensic purposes and in 2006 became a Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology. She has worked for West Yorkshire Police as a forensic analyst.
Dr Williams explained that improvements in DNA reconstruction can be retrospectively applied and forensic technology development can be applied to archaeology, helping to identify cause and date of death and can also be used for facial reconstruction imaging. Anna then went on to describe and show us slides of various sites and finds that had been identified using forensic science.
Her first case was from Prof. Martin Biddle’s excavations of Repton and Anna was allowed to identify the cause of the death of one of the Vikings found there, he had been wounded in the femur with a sword. Lindow Man, the bog body in Wilmslow was very well preserved, he had many injuries, each of which could have caused his death separately and it was therefore thought there may have been a ritualized killing.
At the Battle of Towton, during the Wars of the Roses, 28,000 people died in the 1461 war and in 1996 a mass grave was excavated and forensic techniques were able to identify and separate all the bones. She advised us that the bones showed strenuous exertion whilst growing and it was assumed this meant the men were trained from an early age for battle. Before 1949 it was not so easy to identify dates, radio carbon dating was very important as was dendrochronology and mass spectometry. Bone fluorescence can be used to date bones, but there are other factors that affect this.
Dr Williams then went on to tell us about some of the investigative work undertaken on Tutenkamun. In 1968 the body was radiographed, in 2005 it was CT scanned, when over 1700 images were taken. Anthropological analysis showed he was 18 – 20 years old, 170cm tall. Bone fractures are thought to have occurred after death and not the cause of death.
Dr Williams concluded that archaeology will continue to benefit from scientific advances made in the forensic area.
Thanks to Anna for her very interesting talk.
A report on the Talk
The Archaeology of Sutton Hoo and the Treasures Found There
Thursday 19th March
This was a superbly presented and illustrated talk by Dr Angela Evans, retired head of the Anglo-Saxon Department of the British Museum.
Sutton Hoo, often thought of as a treasure laden ship burial excavated about 70 years ago is much more than that. A major series of mounds, sited on ground overlooking an important river valley was the burial place for the upper echelon of local Anglo-Saxon society, the leaders, the warriors, their relatives and some of their animals have been unearthed over the years.
Many of the mounds appear to have collapsed but further investigation has revealed that they were robbed out in times past. Furthermore recent excavations (1980s – 1990s) uncovered much new material from existing and previously uncovered burials.
Dr Evans’ knowledge of the major artifacts uncovered across northern, middle and eastern Europe and beyond to Asian regions has enabled a better understanding of trading routes of this period in history. The raw materials, processes of manufacture, design, embellishment and decoration all contribute to the creation of patterns of movement and the advancement of peoples towards the British Isles.
The sheer quality of the workmanship and craftsmanship in the items on display and stored in the British Museum, the choice of base materials and the complexity of decoration make it quite obvious that these were grave goods of important people.
Heaving a 90 foot boat to its hilltop resting place must have been an enormous organizational task. The items revealed on excavation show how incredibly technical and developed (despite the lack of specialized tools and equipment) this society had reached. How lucky we are, that ancient graves, with the burial goods, i.e. the necessities for the next life, can still be found and researched and continue to give us more and more information about our ancestors.
Dr Evans’ presentation was not to be missed, her awareness of the Sutton Hoo site to date, is impressive, her knowledge of its history even more impressive. She sold the whole concept of Anglo-Saxon life brilliantly to a limited, but very interested, audience.
The ancient Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum in close to modern day Silchester. It is just in Hampshire, south west of Reading. This large town probably flourished during the Iron Age, but the Romans took over soon after 43AD and developed the town into a major settlement, eventually surrounding it with massive walls, the remains of which are still clearly visible.
Professor Mike Fulford and his assistant Amanda Clarke of the University of Reading have been conducting excavations on one part of this large site, called ‘Insula 9’, for 9 years now. The investigations are run during July and August as a large training exercise for over 100 university students and keen amateurs.
Originally Mike had agreed to give Maidenhead Historical & Archaeological Society a guided tour on the 30th of July, so I went along to update myself on developments. Mike took us around the ‘insula’, which is about 100 metres square and explained the changes in the Roman road alignment and repositioning of houses that had taken place over the centuries.
The ‘artefacts lady’ showed us what had been unearthed in 2008. She showed us a selection of clasp pins and brooches, as well as some coins and a specialised medical tool used for ‘male conditions’. The Dolphin artefact was probably the decorative top of a decanter, or similar (wine) container.
Again there was a profusion of Roman pottery, including pieces of Samian ware (from north Gaul/modern day France). A few sherds of Iron Age pottery have also emerged confirming the site’s history prior to the Roman invasion.