New research uncovers alternative tale of two skeletons at Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon
09:16 18 August 2014
For one hundred and eighty years there have been two skeletons at Hinchingbrooke House, believed to have been the remains of Benedictine nuns who once lived at the Huntingdon site – but new research has revealed a very different story.
Resting together in stone coffins, the bones were discovered again in the house in 1834 by builders.
The remains were believed to have been linked to the nunnery on the site in the 13th century but research has found that while one of the skeletons is a female, the other is male.
And carbon dating examinations at Oxford University, funded by Friends of Hinchingbrooke House (FHH), have dated the skeletons to 994-1050AD – about 200 years older than previously thought.
Peter Downes, chairman of the Friends of Hinchingbrooke House, said: “We are very excited that we discovered something that was previously unknown.
“There are now a number of theories circulating, but it’s always interesting when we assume something to be true and it isn’t.
“The important thing is that it gets people looking into the past forensically and historically.”
The new information started to be discovered when students from Hinchingbrooke School visited forensic biologist Kerry-Ann Milic at Anglia Ruskin University to examine the remains.
Possible childbirth scars were found on the female and evidence on the bones suggested the woman may have also suffered from degenerative arthritis.
The male was very tall for the time – up to around 6ft 1in (186cm) – aged between 43-55 when he died and suffered a broken arm in adulthood. The heavy brow bone on his skull revealed his gender.
The two may have been high-status as their teeth were in good condition and they were buried in stone coffins.
Tom Wheeley, a Friend of Hinchingbrooke House who helped organise the research, said: “These findings, only made possible through the generosity of the FHH and Kerry-Ann, have gone a long way in extending our knowledge of Hinchingbrooke’s early history.
“They have challenged assumptions, provided answers and, in addition, produced further questions.”
A theory raised by Roger Mitchell, former curator for Hinchingbrooke House, suggested the remains were brought from Eltisely by nuns who moved to Hinchingbrooke.
A nunnery once sat on the site until 1536 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII and passed on to the Cromwell family two years later.
Mr Rogers said: “It’s not entirely impossible that when the nuns left Eltisely for Hinchingbrooke, they brought with them either just the bones or the bones and the stone coffins to be reburied at Hinchingbrooke as evidence of continuity.”
The question now remains as to whether the coffins are newer than the remains, previously dated from the 13th century.
A small sample of each skeleton was retained by Ms Milic in the hope that a DNA match can be made.
INFORMATION: For more about the house, visit www.hinchhouse.org.uk.