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.
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 section 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 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.
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…
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.