The Day I Found Ancient Human Remains

When out for family walks, foraging for wild blackberries and other naturally occurring edible delights, you don’t expect to stumble across human remains. But that’s what happened to me.

The Setting

We had been out for about ten minutes, only just made it to the first section of the local footpaths, when I looked down in a newly cleared Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 21.58.12section of land to see a human jaw bone laying on the surface of the earth. Like you do. I picked it up, not quite believing what it was, examined it briefly, determined that it was indeed a human jaw and said out loud to my sister, mum and dad who were also there, “…found a human jaw…”. They all turned around and glared, firstly at me, and then at the bone in my hand. There was a second or two of silence before my dads face slumped into one of disbelief, anxiousness, concern and a hint of a hysterical smile at the bizarre situation we had just found ourselves in, before saying, “Why does this stuff always happen to you?!”. Not that I find body parts often, but if anything weird was to happen to anyone in this family, it would be me…

We rang the police to inform them of the find. After a brief questioning over the phone – including repeatedly confirming that it was in fact, not a cow or dog jaw – they determined that, due to location, circumstance and experience, this was not likely to be a cause for concern and was in fact, historical. Possibly Saxon, though this remains unconfirmed at the time of writing this.

After an hour and a half, two hours, we met up with the police officers who were sent to collect it. They took one look, confirmed that it was indeed an old remain. They mentioned the condition of the teeth, indicating that the worn flat appearance matched the diet of those from years gone by. They also said that the colour of the bone, a dark brown, complete with roots growing through it, also indicated that it had been there for a long time.

The Theory

The ground had been freshly cleared and churned, it’s farm land so this is normal. It looks like years of farming had caused disruption to this ancient burial and had resulted in the mandible breaking off and rising to the surface. According to the police, this sort of find is very common in Norfolk. We live in a hugely historic area, particularly for Saxons, Vikings and Romans (there’s a Roman settlement fort only a mile away) and farming causes old objects or bones to show up regularly. They were telling us about one man who was building an extension to find five saxon bodies in his garden! The village I live in is Viking, we know this by the fact it ends in “by”, a common Viking theme for settlements. It was also found a stones throw from the very old village graveyard. Only just outside the grounds, but firmly within sight. The bones probably belongs to someone from ancient times, era unknown, and has been broken up, disturbed and found after years of farming. Other than that, it’s a complete mystery.

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 22.13.05

What Happens Now?

The police were happy that it wasn’t cause for concern, based on the evidence of location, the distance from graveyard, freshly farmed land and a historically rich location where finds like this are common place. They said it would be handed over to the local archaeology team and they would determine whether they would conduct further excavations or not. Interestingly, we learned that any bones in the ground for 75 years or over, becomes historical and not a police matter. Also, archaeologists will usually look at the bone, the settings of the find and only launch a dig only if they think it’s worth it. They tend to only investigate further if the graves are mainly undisturbed and just rebury the broken bits remains if they choose not to look further into it. That means the vast majority of finds are simply reburied. This is likely to happen with this one. I find this quite sad, it used to be a human being. It’s broken off from the remains of that person and buried elsewhere to be forgotten once again. But you shouldn’t cry about ancient history…

Conclusion

Finding such an artefact certainly made for an interesting day. Fear that it may be modern and serious. Fascination about who, why, how old, how? Where is the rest? It creates an endless stream of questions. Knowing that it is historical and not a serious crime or missing persons is comforting. I love history, it’s one of my biggest passions, I have a degree in it. In a way, I almost feel that it’s nice for that individual to be thought about after so many years. It’s a fascinating  to think about a life from centuries ago living were you live, so differently, wondering about who they were, what they were like, how they ended up there. These are questions we will never know the answers to, but it’s wonderful to think of endless possibilities and warming to know that that person is once again thought of after centuries. Gone, but not forgotten, even now.

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15 thoughts on “The Day I Found Ancient Human Remains

    • Hello, Britain is rich in history. I think that’s one of the reasons I love the subject so much, because so much of it is always available to us. It’s not uncommon to hear of big treasure finds on occasion. An 8 year old boy found £8 Million worth of old gold and silver in his garden!

  1. Hey, Nikki! You need one of those super-dooper metal detectors so you can really find that buried gold, like those fellows … where were they from in England? They really hit the jackpot!

  2. oh. my. gosh! Seriously lady, I would pass out! Listen, I’m a nurse, and we all have our quirks that we just don’t want to deal with. Mine are teeth. Weird, I know.

    I remember one occasion where paramedics dropped off an elderly woman who had fallen. They gave me a large envelope that I didnt get to look at until later. It was her teeth. Ack! Or another time a man got mad at me in triage and threw his tooth at my window because he was mad that he wasnt going to be seen next! oh! the horror! You are a brave woman!

    Did you have to report it?

    • Hello!
      Indeed I did have to report it. Two police officers came over and spoke to us about how often it happened here. We live on ancient Roman settlements so there’s plenty of history, human and not, under our feet! They were really good about it though.
      I don’t mind teeth as long as they’re not my own. I have recurring nightmares about my teeth falling out, do you have that too? SO grateful when I wake up and realise i still have them all, healthy and in my face!
      Bet you see a lot as a nurse, bet you hate the dentist!

      • I have dreams about my teeth shattering or all my hair falling out! I guess those kind of dreams make you realize how fortunate you are.

        I truly truly hate the dentist. One refused to see me anymore because I cried every time I went! My husband has to make sure he has the day off when I have a cleaning scheduled or else I will cancel!

        I guess there are some fears you never grow out of! I just don’t trust people who want to look into other people’s mouths all day long. Ewww! No offense to any dentists here!

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