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Remains of Roman gladiators discovered at York burial site
MORE than 80 Roman warriors could bring York economic success after archaeologists working in the city revealed they may have found the world’s best-preserved gladiator cemetery.
Researchers discovered scores of skeletons, some of which feature marks that could reflect the violent manner in which the individuals died, during a continuing archaeological and forensic investigation at a site in Driffield Terrace, Holgate.
Dr Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “These are internationally important discoveries. We don’t have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world.”
York’s tourism chiefs hope the find will help to attract even more visitors to the city.
Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of Visit York, said: “This is yet another great York story to add to the city’s exciting and colourful heritage.
“For us, whose job is to market the city, it is fantastic news, as it brings York’s past to life and gives us something else to talk about to encourage new visitors to the city.
“We look forward to hearing more news, and if there is an opportunity for people to come and physically see something, then so much the better.”
Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust, who is leading the investigation, said bite marks on one of the skeletons helped steer the team to their preliminary theory. He said: “One of the most significant items of evidence is a large carnivore bite mark – probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear – an injury which must have been sustained in an arena context.”
Other indicators that these skeletons were Roman gladiators include some healed and unhealed weapon injuries, possible hammer blows to the head and a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry – a feature mentioned in ancient Roman literature in connection with gladiators.
Mr Hunter-Mann said the skeletons, which date from the late first century AD to the fourth century AD, were mostly male, very robust and above average height.
He said all the individuals were buried with some respect and 14 of them were interred together with grave goods to accompany them to the next world. The most impressive grave was that of a tall man aged between 18 and 23, buried in a large oval grave sometime in the third century.
Interred with him were what appear to have been the remains of substantial joints of meat from at least four horses possibly consumed at the funeral – plus some cow and pig remains.
He had been decapitated by several sword blows to the neck.
In 2005, The Press exclusively revealed the mystery of bodies found at Driffield Terrace from the Roman era, some of which had been decapitated.
• The research will feature in a Channel 4 documentary, Gladiators: Back From The Dead, next Monday at 9pm.