Criminals and outcasts were decapitated in gruesome executions, according to finds at an ancient archaeological site, say experts at Bradford University.

A team of human bone analysts, Bradford’s very own version of the team from BBC1’s hit Tuesday night drama Bonekickers, have been examining remains excavated from an out-of-town site in East Yorkshire.

Twelve bodies dug from the ground in Walkington Wold, near Beverley, are being closely inspected by Dr Jo Buckberry, Dr Janet Montgomery and Professor Julia Lee-Thorp.

Ten headless bodies were discovered with the missing skulls unearthed close by in what was a mass grave believed to date from the 7th or 8th Centuries.

The team is carrying out microscopic studies of teeth from the skulls to try to learn more about who these people were and where they came from.

Their research will be published and will help students studying human osteology, the study of human bones, and palaeopathology, the study of ancient diseases, at the university.

Dr Buckberry has theories of her own. She said: “Sometimes people weren’t buried in church graveyards, but at sites towards the boundaries of towns.

“There is documentary evidence that states criminals were not buried on consecrated ground, sometimes that was extended to strangers as well.”

She said the examination of the remains from East Yorkshire had great research potential.

“Our research will give greater understanding as to the social structures in place from the days of paganism to Christianity,” she said.

“In the seventh century small groups were vying for control of different areas until 1066 when there was a concept of a kingdom of England. This is an exploration of how people dealt with that.”

Next week, 40 professional human archaeology experts are travelling to Bradford University from as far away as America and Australia for a short course looking at some of the university’s collection of more than 3,000 skeletons.

Elsewhere, the university has groups of archaeology students carrying out a research projects at sites in the Shetland Isles and at the ancient city of Pompeii.

Remains are also arriving for inspection at the university from a British Museums excavation site in Lebanon.

A range of courses in archaeology and related sciences can be studied by undergraduates and postgraduates at Bradford University. Its next open day is Saturday, October 4.

For more information visit

e-mail: ben.barnett