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Science reveals story behind brutal execution in the amphitheatre

The circumstances surrounding a brutal execution near Chester Amphitheatre could have been solved, thanks to modern science.

Science reveals story behind brutal execution in the amphitheatre
Archaeologists discovered the human jawbone of a man whilst they were excavating a ditch near
 the amphitheatre in Chester in the 1930s [Credit: Grosvenor Museum]
During the 1930s archaeologists were excavating a ditch at the South East end of the Roman fort of Chester, just metres from the amphitheatre. Among pottery and metalwork, they discovered a human jawbone of a man which displayed “strange markings” along the jaw line.

Assumed to be a Roman, and perhaps from an execution in the Amphitheatre, the jawbone was archived away and forgotten about for more than 70 years. It was rediscovered recently by staff from the Grosvenor Museum, who worked with Chester-based heritage agency Big Heritage, to fund a series of scientific tests to determine as much as possible about the man and his life.

Big Heritage founder Dean Paton said: “Our consultant bio-archaeologist determined quickly that the jawbone was of a young man who had suffered a violent sword blow across the face from a height – perhaps indicating the person was on their knees at the time. However, it was further discovered that the ‘strange markings’ noted in the 1930s were that of a small sharp knife, which was most likely used to decapitate the person. It was quite a brutal end, and not exactly typical for a Roman execution.”

Science reveals story behind brutal execution in the amphitheatre
Cut marks made by a small sharp knife probably used to decapitate the person 
[Credit: Grosvenor Museum]
The team then worked with experts from Glasgow University to undertake chemical analysis of the bone. Rather than being Roman, the jawbone was found to be that of a 13th century man, with further analysis suggesting he had a poor diet.

The jawbone, and the science supporting the new discovery is currently on display at the Sick to Death history of medicine attraction at the Water Tower, on the city walls of Chester.

Richard Euston, Senior Heritage Officer said: “We were all shocked to find out this jawbone was medieval and not Roman. Chester was a turbulent place to be in the 13th century, and was under constant threat from Welsh incursions, among other things. This man seems to have been executed, with his head likely to have been displayed on the walls of Chester to warn others.

“Perhaps he was a Welsh rebel who had been captured and executed. It’s incredible that modern science has been able to shed so much light onto a long forgotten incident in Chester’s past.”

Source: Chester Standard [October 31, 2016]

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