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The Skeleton

Find out more about one of the discoveries made at University of Reading's field school.

The discovery of the remains of a teenage boy from deep within the Wilsford henge ditch was undoubtedly the most celebrated discovery of our work in 2015.

Human remains are both tangible and evocative – they remind us that the past is not an abstract concept concocted by theoreticians, but that people really did live and die in these places. Our understanding of the Wilsford henge, and indeed this period generally, is richer for this discovery.

Careful analysis of the skeleton by osteologist Mary Lewis tells us that the individual was 14 to 15 years old on death, and that he is in all likelihood male. We know from Mary’s work that he suffered a fracture to his right collarbone when he was younger, and has signs of mechanical strain on his skeleton indicating that he did a lot of walking and heavy lifting. He also has chipped and worn front teeth, suggesting that he regularly used his teeth to do something, perhaps to clamp string during a task. Pitted changes to his eye sockets indicates that his diet was low in iron – in all probability a general lack of meat and fresh vegetables in his diet.

There is still much more to learn about this teenage boy. Although we know that he is Bronze Age in date because of his stratigraphic location within the ditch sequence and the fragments of pottery found in his grave, we do not know exactly when he was buried. Radiocarbon dating will provide evidence for this – at least to within 100 years or so of his death. Furthermore, by undertaking both ancient DNA and isotopic studies of the skeleton, we will be able to shed light on his diet, movement and mobility patterns. Both techniques can provide remarkable information on how far individuals moved throughout their life, which is a truly exciting prospect and should provide us with a greater understanding of his life story.

Can you imagine the teenage boy’s life? How he broke his collarbone, what activities he used his teeth for, what caused the mechanical strain on his skeleton, and why his diet was poor? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond

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