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Rare 'Shackled Skeleton' Found in Rutland Provides Glimpses of Slavery in Roman Britain

Shackled remains found in Rutland, UK | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

Shackled remains found in Rutland, UK | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters

Chris Chinnock, who was also part of the research, pointed that while the study was grim, it was an important one as it “forces us to ask questions that we wouldn’t ordinarily ask.”

A shackled male skeleton found during the construction of a house in Great Casterton, Rutland (UK), could be a ‘rare’ and important evidence of slavery in Roman Britain. According to a report in The Guardian, researchers at the Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA) had been conducting their research on this skeleton and have now published their finding in the journal Britannia.

The skeleton, which is believed to be of a male between the age of 25 and35, has radiocarbon dating that suggests that the remains were from AD 226 to AD 427. This discovery of this shackled skeleton has been the first of its type in Britain and researchers believe that it is the ‘clearest’ case of burial of an enslaved individual found in the UK. Talking about the findings of the research, Michael Marshall -a specialist at MoLA- suggested that ‘this burial is exceptionally unusual.’

Chris Chinnock, who was also part of the research, pointed that while the study was grim, it was an important one as it “forces us to ask questions that we wouldn’t ordinarily ask.”The team of researchers had considered several theories during their study on this skeleton. One of these theories also explored the possibility that the shackles could have been added after the man died, to demean him or brand him as criminals in the afterlife.

While the other few shackled skeletons that have been found in other countries are generally victims of natural disaster and have not been buried, researchers pointed that this is clearly not the case in Great Casterton. The researchers also highlighted that the burial position of this skeleton was an awkward one with the skeleton slightly on his right side and his left side and arm elevated on a slope. The possible explanation for this could be that he was thrown in a ditch and covered over.

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Despite the fact that there was a Roman Cemetery preset just 60 meters away from the point of discovery, the body was buried here as a conscious decision to not bury him properly. Chinnock, an expert in ancient bones, said the man appeared to had led a physically demanding life. A bony spur on an upper leg bone may have been caused by a fall or blow or be the result of a life filled with excessive physical activity. The injury had healed by the time he died, and the cause of his death remains unknown.

The MoLA team says that while the identity of the man might never be confirmed, the various evidence presents it as the most convincing case of remains of a Roman slave yet to be found in Britain.

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first published:June 08, 2021, 11:35 IST