Archaeologists in Suffolk, UK, recently discovered a grisly and unusual form of burial as part of planned excavations ahead of the construction of a housing development. As they combed through the fifty-two skeletons at the Roman burial ground at the site, they discovered that 40% of the bodies had been buried with the skulls between the legs of the deceased. The high proportion of decapitated bodies indicates that these were not the victims of execution and that instead ancient Romans had been dismembering the remains post-mortem and moving around the bodies.
The 4th-century Roman cemetery near Bury St. Edmunds includes the remains of women and children who, almost certainly, had lived nearby in a contemporary settlement. The decapitation took place post-mortem though it is (currently) unclear if the body was excarnated (stripped of flesh) before this took place. Archaeologist Andrew Peacher commented that the discovery gave scientists a “fascinating insight” into the quirky burial practices of Roman-era Britons. He added that the “statistical anomaly of having so many decapitations there” suggests that “we are looking at a very specific part of the population that followed a very specific form of burial.”
This isn’t the first example of decapitated bodies in ancient Britain. Anthropologist Kristina Kilgrove told the Daily Beast that “the number of people whose heads were buried separately from their bodies is quite similar to those found at Eboracum (modern Driffield Terrace, York) a decade ago.” These excavations revealed that a number of bodies there had been decapitated, punctured by animal attacks, and had asymmetrical musculature (the bane of weight lifters and athletes everywhere). All of which was suggestive that these bodies belonged to gladiators.