Buried Bones

This week, classics students in Years 8 and 9 have been experiencing what it is like to be an archaeologist uncovering Roman remains!

Students were given gloves and trowels, and asked to explore a site in the far corner of Cheney School, where several bones lay buried. The students uncovered the bones, filled out a "find sheet" to record the immediate details of the items - their location, what they looked like, what they had been buried with - and then discussed what they could learn from the bones themselves.

The replica bones had been given injuries and deformities which had been uncovered on the bones of the skeletal remains of actual gladiators uncovered in York. Archaeologists exhumed 80 skeletons from gardens at Driffield Terrace after their discovery in 2004. They date from the late first century AD to the 4th century AD. The skeletons had injuries which indicated the sorts of injuries they may have suffered in their lives as fighters in the arena. One skeleton had a puncture hole in his shoulder bone, indicating that he had been a "bestiarius", who fought with wild animals in the "venatio" shows. Another had swelling on his lower leg bones, showing that he had had chains forged onto his legs. Another had a thigh bone that bent slightly outwards, suggesting that he was an "eques", a gladiator who fought on horseback. One had a large hole in his skull, where he had possibly been despatched by "Charon", the character who would have possibly executed gladiators who had surrendered and been condemned by the crowds to death.

The skeletons came from a wide range of regions, including North Africa and Central Europe, which was consistent with the broad trade in slaves for gladiator fighting which took place across the Roman emperor.

We intended the sessions to be a lively and hands-on way of exploring the life and types of gladiators in the Roman world, and how we come to know what we think we know about the ancient past, through evidence from artefacts and biofacts.

Thank you very much to Cheney sixth formers Ruchika and Serene who supported these sessions and helped with burying and uncovering the bones!