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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Bones of Possible Medieval Kings and Queens Analyzed

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Winchester Cathedral bonesBRISTOL, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that Heidi Dawson-Hobbis and Kate Robson Brown of the University of Bristol and their colleagues analyzed a collection of medieval human remains held in wooden caskets in southern England’s Winchester Cathedral. In the mid-seventeenth century, during the English Civil War, the cathedral was ransacked and the bones were taken from their wooden caskets and scattered by Parliamentarian troops. The jumbled bones were thought to belong to six Anglo-Saxon kings, an Anglo-Saxon queen, an Anglo-Norman king, an Anglo-Danish king, and two Anglo-Saxon bishops. The scientists determined, however, that the bones include the remains of at least 23 people. To date, the skeletons of 10 of the individuals have been reassembled, some of the bones have been dated, and the sex and age at death of some of the individuals have been determined. DNA testing could reveal specific family relationships among them. Isotope analysis of the bones could help the researchers ascertain where each person grew up and what he or she ate. Further research may reveal what sort of activities the people took part in, such as archery or horseback riding. In addition, damage to the bones indicates that accounts of Parliamentarian troops using the royal bones as missiles to break the cathedral’s stained glass windows may be accurate. To read about archaeological investigation into the landscape of an earlier English civil war, go to “Letter from England: Inside the Anarchy.”

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