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24 September 2014

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You are in: Bradford and West Yorkshire > Features > Latest > A 4000 year old VIP comes to Bradford!

Gristhorpe Man's skull

Open wide!: Gristhorpe Man

A 4000 year old VIP comes to Bradford!

It's been a case of "'Bone' voyage" for one old chap this summer, travelling all the way from Scarborough to Bradford for his holidays. Gristhorpe Man's his name, he's 4000 years young and we've been to Bradford Uni to find the key to THIS skeleton!

Bradford University's Archeological Sciences Department might not be top of the list of desirable destinations for visitors to the city, but that's exactly where Gristhorpe Man's ended up. In fact, while his usual home - the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough - is being given a lick of paint, Bradford's Archeology staff thought it was a good chance to give him a much-needed holiday so they could take a look at the remains of this grand old Yorkshireman to see what they could discover!

Gristhorpe Man's skeleton

Dr Nigel: "He's an old friend!"

Dr Nigel Malton, the Department's Honorary Research Fellow, is playing host to this millenial man and he admits he's actually quite fond of the old chap - bones 'n' all. In fact Nigel's known him for some years: "I first 'met' him a long time ago when I was about five or six-years-old. I was taken to Scarborough Museum and I remember peering in at this blackened skeleton and being absolutely fascinated by him. In many ways, he's an old friend!"

'Old' doesn't really begin to describe Gristhorpe Man, of course. Even when he was originally discovered near Scarborough in 1834 he'd been around for a long, long time! Since then, he's been kept on show in the famous Yorkshire seaside town's museum - until his recent trip to Bradford anyway. Nigel says the chance to have a close look at one of our ancient ancestors was too good to ignore: "This is a unique opportunity to use modern science on a discovery which hasn't really been looked at. He's important - probably the best-preserved Bronze Age skeleton in the country. His coffin's fairly spectacular as well and is also extremely well-preserved, as are the grave goods which were found with him."

"They boiled him in a washing tub for eight hours in a solution of animal glue, and it seems to have worked because he's still here!"

Dr Nigel Malton, Bradford Uni

The fact that Gristhorpe Man's still in a fit state for Bradford Uni's experts to examine him is down to the forward thinking of the people who found him, that and a vat of glue anyway! Nigel explains: "We were lucky that the people involved in the 1834 dig were members of the Philosophical Society which included local doctors and so forth. He was actually treated very well. They even attempted to conserve him because he was so fragile. They boiled him in a washing tub for eight hours in a solution of animal glue, and it seems to have worked because he's still here. He's fantastically complete, right down to his toe bones!"

So, just who WAS Gristhorpe Man? Well, he was definitely a 'somebody' 4000 years ago, says Nigel, perhaps even an ancient VIP!: "The fact that he was buried in a barrow [burial mound] on a prominent position on the cliffs - a fantastic position where you can see inland to the Wolds, south to Flamborough Head, north to Scarborough - and the effort that's gone into making his coffin and the grave goods which are with him all say that he was an important person in his day". Nigel also says that everything points to the 'G' man also being a bit of a 'he' man. He was a "strongly built and muscular man" who was about six feet tall, a real giant in those days!

And much of Gristhorpe Man's grave goods - the items he was buried with - are still impressive today, says Nigel: "The nicest ones to look at are a bronze dagger with its polished whalebone pommel [handle]. But there were also flints, the animal skin he was wrapped in, little animal bones which presumably came off, and there were the remains of a basket which has now fallen apart because they didn't know how to conserve things back in the 19th Century."

Dr Nigel examines the skull

Dr Nigel and Gristhorpe Man

One thing that Gristhorpe Man is not going to give up easily is the secret of his own death. Nigel admits that it's a 'whodunnit' - or more likely a 'whatdunnit' - which probably won't have an answer: "That's the big question and when you get a skeleton you're not really likely to find out. You really need soft tissue. Unless someone had done him serious damage with a club or something it's not going to leave a record on the skeleton. If he just died of old age we won't see it. As part of our study we have put him through a CT scan [used to create a 3D computer image] and there are some interesting things coming up on there. But we've got to check those before coming up with any sort of final answer!"

So the mystery of Gristhorpe Man looks set to continue. But, while this ancient VIP's past may still be a bit of an enigma his future's looking a bit more certain. His long holiday in Bradford continues until next year when he'll return to his final resting place in Scarborough. Not bad going for a 4000 year old Yorkshireman - still able to get around at his age!

last updated: 11/07/07

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