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Human Remains Team – Summer 2018

Max enjoying the sunshine

The Human Remains Team has had a busy and productive summer this year, so we just wanted to give you an update on the work we have been doing.

“Introduction to Human Remains” course

Course attendees recording their skeletons, with George II looking on.

Our introductory course had nine attendees this year. Over the course of the week, they learnt basic skeletal anatomy, how to assess skeletons for their age, sex, and any illnesses they suffered from. They learnt about methods of recording and analysing skeletal remains, and discussed the ethics of examining bones.

Course attendees presenting their week’s work in the marquee.

They recorded three of our favourite skeletons over the week, and presented an interesting discussion of “The Tale of the Three Spines” to the other volunteers at the end of the week.

Course tutors and attendees, SHARP Introduction to Human Remains course 2018.

Human Remains volunteers

We had a number of people interested in volunteering in post-excavation work with the Human Remains Team this year. In total, we had seven keen beans over two weeks.

They worked on a selection of interesting projects, including measurements of teeth and hip joints to determine the sex of skeletons where the usual features aren’t present. Others looked at new methods to assess puberty status in our adolescent and young adult population.

Three of our volunteers hard at work with some of our 400 or so skeletons in the SHARP archive.

We also had a crack team working on recording some of our disarticulated skeletal remains. With so many skeletons buried in the same burial ground over such a long period (approximately 650 to 900 AD), the gravediggers were prone to disturbing older burials. These remains were returned to the ground, but rarely as a whole skeleton. We are only now getting the chance to assess these bones properly, to learn even more about our population, with the aim of potentially returning these bones to their original owners.

This is a project we hope to work on further in future years, and we are in the process of submitting a grant application to Heritage Lottery Funding to help with this.

Open Day

Claire and Maria raring to go for SHARP Open Day 2018, overlooking a display examining the different burial methods found at the site.

Open Day 2018 was a rainy affair, meaning we had plenty of visitors hiding from the Sedgeford weather in the Human Remains Hut. We had a beautiful display put together by Claire and Maria, showing some of the things you can learn on our other course, “Further Studies in Human Remains”. We spoke to lots of interested locals about the history of the project, the skeletons we have, and the ongoing work we are doing.

A range of thigh bones showing development of the skeleton, from newborn to one of our biggest individuals.

Ray explaining to visitors the finer details of bone diseases and the dynamic skeleton.

(Not) excavating Lou

You may recall from the Set-up Week blog entry ( ) that there was an inadvertent discovery of a skeleton, nicknamed Lou, found during the preparations for our new shower block.

Although this individual was found in the same field as the Anglo-Saxon burial ground, excavated between 1996 and 2007, previous evaluation trenches had suggested that the burial ground did not extend this far. We have also found skeletons from other periods during the SHARP excavations, including Roman, Iron Age and Bronze Age.

With so many questions, we decided we wanted a bit more information before we think about opening an excavation in the area, so we are sending one of the toe bones disturbed during initial exposure for radiocarbon dating. Lou was then covered and put back to rest. We hope to have a result in a few months’ time, so we shall wait with baited breath until then…

Heel bone and big toe bone from Lou.

Overall, we have had a busy season, steadily progressing with our post-excavation work on the Sedgeford skeletons. Plus a chance to get a bit muddy with some digging ourselves!


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