Gristhorpe Man – Britain’s best preserved early Bronze Age skeleton

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Little further work had been undertaken on them, despite the significant advances in archaeological science since the 19th century, and this important assemblage had largely slipped off the radar of even Bronze Age specialists.

In 2005 to 2008, while the museum was closed for a lottery-funded restoration, the finds were stored in the controlled environment of the conservation laboratory in the Department of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford University.

This provided an ideal opportunity to re-examine them using a range of scientific techniques. An osteological and palaeopathological re-assessment of the skeleton included a full body CT scan and a facial reconstruction.

A battery of other techniques were also employed: radiocarbon dating; lead, strontium and oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel; carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of tooth dentine and of material preserved in a glass vial labelled ‘brain’.

There was a raman spectroscopy of what were labelled as ‘mistletoe berries’ – they turned out to be renal stones.

There was an investigation by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry of the contents of the bark container and the ‘brain’ material and proteomics analysis of the skeleton and animal skin.

And there were metallurgical, isotopic laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and x-ray fluorescence analyses of the bronze dagger blade, as well as scanning electron microscope examination of artefacts including the animal hide and flint knife.

A monograph documents all these analyses, and the results have been incorporated into the museum display, together with chapters written by leading Bronze Age archaeologists on the historical and archaeological context of this exceptional and enigmatic individual.

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