The circumstances around a brutal execution near Chester Amphitheatre may have been solved thanks to modern science.
Archaeologists in the 1930s 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 an execution from 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 bioarchaeologist 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.”
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.
Senior heritage officer Richard Euston 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 amongst 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.”
Sick to Death is a new venture designed to share the history of health and medicine in Chester. Visit www.sicktodeath.org for more details.