London

London skulls reveal evidence of Roman headhunting

  • 15 January 2014
  • From the section London
Healed fracture to left of cheek bone
Headhunters would collect the heads of dead enemies as trophies

Dozens of skulls excavated in London have provided the first evidence of a possible burial ground for Roman headhunting victims in the capital.

The remains of 40 Romans were found at 52-63 London Wall in 1988 but forensic analysis has only recently finished.

Forensic experts have said the City of London location is the likely burial site of Roman headhunter victims or defeated gladiators and possibly both.

A Museum of London spokeswoman said the findings were a "tantalising prospect".

After the remains were excavated, they were deposited in the nearby Museum of London, but it was only recently that forensic analysis was completed.

'Bloodthirsty Romans'

The resulting article, Headhunting and amphitheatre combat in Roman London, revealed the skulls could have been the victims of headhunters, who would collect the heads of dead enemies as trophies.

Londinium served as a major commercial centre for the Roman Empire

The research showed that almost all the skulls are of adult males and that violence was a common feature of their life.

Many had multiple healed wounds, one with a shattered cheek bone typical of a violent punch in the face and on some there is clear evidence of decapitation with a sword.

Dr Rebecca Redfern, from the Museum of London, said research had "led us to two possible outcomes - that these are fatally injured gladiators, or the victims of Roman headhunting - a tantalising prospect".

"The view of bloodthirsty Romans has wide currency, but this is the first time that we have evidence of these types of violent acts in London," she added.

"There is no evidence for social unrest, warfare or other acts of organised violence in London during the period that these human remains date from.

"The next step in the research is to look at where these people came from."

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