A team of Bradford academics claims to have solved the mystery of what is believed to be Britain’s best-preserved early Bronze Age skeleton.
The remains of Gristhorpe Man have been examined by a team of 12 researchers at the University of Bradford while the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough, where they are displayed, was refurbished.
And not only has the 4,000-year-old man’s likely story unravelled, but he has been equipped with the power of speech to tell visitors to the museum all about his past and subsequent excavation from a burial mound at Gristhorpe, near Filey, in 1834.
Dr Alan Ogden, an osteologist who teaches post-graduates at Bradford University, has completed what is thought to be a first in forensic archaeology by reconstructing Gristhorpe Man’s face and making him ‘talk’ using computer software, while forensic examinations have turned up a raft of information about the man’s history.
Dr Ogden said: “The bones are so well preserved that we thought they could actually be a Victorian fake. Firstly because he is very tall for that period and also he has surprisingly little wear to his teeth.”
He said the skeleton only survived because it was buried in a tree trunk. It is complete except for two tiny bones in its feet.
Dr Ogden said: “We have done a lot of chemical tests on his teeth because once the teeth are formed they don’t change and they show where someone has spent their childhood. Our tests indicated that he spent his life in the Yorkshire region.
“We can tell he ate a lot of meat; other than a few rib fractures he had been in good health all his life, and he lived until about 60. He’s been an aristocrat all his life and ate a carefully-prepared diet.”
The man’s likely cause of death was ascertained by tests at Bradford Royal Infirmary.
Dr Ogden said: “We found, with the help of a CT scan, that he had a brain tumour growing on the left side of his skull which may well have lead to him suddenly collapsing.
“He was buried unusually and the reasons they were buried this way was to honour them, and the other reason was to make sure they didn’t come back. We do wonder whether this tumour had caused him to have fits, hear voices or speak with tongues and in that society he could’ve been seen as in league with the underworld.”
Despite the sinister blackening to the skeleton, caused by tannin in the bark of the coffin, the reality, Dr Ogden said, was that this man was probably a rather more genteel character. “Displayed in the museum, kids have been terrified by this black skeleton but the man himself might well have been a grandfatherly figure.
“He was a senior member of his tribe in a very successful farming community. Those people had a way of life that worked for them. They weren’t the grunting, barbaric people of Hollywood.”
Dr Ogden said he hoped his facial reconstruction and speaking innovation would make people realise that the skeleton belonged to a human being.