Ancient decapitated human remains found in Hunts village

On Knobb’s Farm in Somersham, more than 50 burials have been unearthed

On Knobb’s Farm in Somersham, more than 50 burials have been unearthed - Credit: Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

More than 50 skeletons were discovered at a Roman burial site on a farm, in Huntingdonshire and the details have been published recently.

The remains were found at  Knobb’s Farm, in Somersham, by construction company Tarmac, who were brought in to restore the former quarry.

Remains of a skeleton discovered at Knobbs Farm in Somersham

Remains of a skeleton discovered at Knobbs Farm in Somersham - Credit: Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Three cemeteries were then uncovered by archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) and a total of 52 bodies were discovered, with 17 decapitated individuals believed to be victims of Roman execution methods. 

Dr Isabel Lisboa of Archaeologica Ltd, who led the team, said: “The field work took 10 years, because it was done in phases.  

“It was in 2010 and it took us a long time, because we had to finish the quarry and file the assessment and the report.  

“There were 52 bodies recovered and in three of the decapitated bodies were quite well preserved.  

Cambridge University researchers excavated the site. 

Cambridge University researchers excavated the site. - Credit: Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

“So the team were able to look at the neck and the head under the microscope and identify the traces left by a sword and the direction of the cut, so in three bodies we can identify they were decapitated by sword."

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Enough structures had survived for the archaeological team to determine that the site probably originated as a late Iron Age settlement and was abandoned by the third century AD.

Dr Isabel Lisboa said: “It is a major contribution to the understanding of Roman Britain. 

“Allying the detailed bone study and setting the practice of decapitation against the local socio-political context, as the cemetery is surrounded by unusually large settlements which are proposed to be sponsored farm, supplying food for the Roman army.

"This has allowed us to understand why so and the date of the cemeteries (a time of social and political instability) allows us to understand why there are such large proportion of decapitations.   

“The grave goods and the occasional use of coffins suggests that the decapitated bodies were buried with the same rite as the local (non-decapitated) population."

Alan Everard, head of strategic planning South at Tarmac, said: “As responsible custodians of all our sites it’s extremely important that all items of historic interest are carefully excavated and recorded.

“Tarmac has been proud to work with the experienced team at the Cambridge Archaeology Unit and Dr Lisboa and it’s a real positive that our activity at Knobb’s Farm has enabled a deeper understanding of the rich archaeology that lies within our land."

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