The Colliery Skull

During the summer of 1977, the County Archaeology Unit for West Yorkshire carried out a rescue excavation of a square, ditched enclosure with an east-facing entrance at Rothwell Haigh Colliery.

Archaeological remains were first identified during aerial reconnaissance in July 1977. Following stripping by the National Coal Board prior to tipping, archaeologists were afforded an opportunity to examine the features exposed…

Relatively few discrete features were identified, but a 12.3m well situated within the enclosure was fully excavated. From this well, the following objects were discovered: Pottery, wooden objects including a bucket, spade and bowls, pots, a quern disk roughout, plus animal parts and…… a human skull.

A human skull (with the jaw absent) was recovered from the well at a depth of 9.6m, this was just over two metres from the bottom of the well.

Keith Manchester did a report on the skull in 1978:

The specimen from the well at Rothwell consists of a deeply brown stained human cranium of an adult, probably male. The age at death, assessed by dental attrition was about 25 years, but the complete union of the cranial sutures suggests that the individual may have been somewhat older. No disease processes are evident.

Some of the skull was missing, all roughly in the same place on the skull. This what not caused by the skull being removed or the earth disturbed around it. These injuries could possibly result from decapitation and the skull possibly placed in the well after putrefraction.

It seems the poor soul could have met a sticky end and his remains possibly hidden away in the well.

The archaeology though did reveal quite a bit about the history of the area, the well was in use as early as the late 2nd to early 3rd century and the conclusion of the report tells us the area was a thriving community with domestic activity and local crafts:

Despite a poorly-preserved enclosure and a dearth of associated structures, the excavation of an unlined rock-cut well at Rothwell Haigh in the 1970s has provided a valuable assemblage of artefacts and environmental remains. They indicate domestic activity (cereals, querns and millstones, animal husbandry and butchery waste) and local crafts (wood working, leather working or repair), as well as contacts with a wider community (imported hides, specialist metalworkers and access to current fashions). On balance, the association of complete pottery vessels, a human skull, animal carcasses, rare wooden artefacts (in particular a yew bucket) and a disk roughout has been used to propose ritual activity. Given their form and location within the well, a closure event appears to be most likely. Along side these ‘purposeful’ deposits, the pragmatic discard of butchery waste, stable litter, dung and wood chippings also occurred.

To read the full report, click here its quite heavy reading, but very interesting. Do you remember the Archeology at Rothwell Colliery in 1977? Did you work at the colliery at the time?

Have you read the full report, what do you think to the skull and how the individual came to an end?

Let us know in the comments section below!

With thanks to the Archaeology Data Service

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