It was my turn to lead this morning’s gallery tour and by a particular piece of serendipity it turned out that the anniversary of the subject I selected last year actually falls today. The head of Worsley Man was found on 18th August 1958. The remains were found by John Connelly as he was walling peat blocks in an isolated spot just inside the Worsley boundary, about two miles from Astley Green village. Worsley Moss is part of the Chat Moss pet bog complex in Salford.
As with the better preserved body of Lindow Man (also discovered in the month of August – the 30th anniversary of the discovery has just passed), the head was thought to be that of a relatively recent murder victim and police spent five days searching the surrounding 252 acres (100 ha) of the moss but without finding any further remains. Incidentally we’d be very interested to talk to any retired police officers who took part in the search of Worsley Moss. There was a Coroner’s Inquest but when tests revealed that the head was not recent the rather grisly discovery was transferred to the University of Manchester. The remains were displayed in a perspex box at the Museum of the Pathology Department at the Manchester Medical School.
It was only after the discovery of Lindow Man in August 1984, that the head of Worsley Man attracted archaeological interest. Worsley Man was 20-30 years old and showed signs of having died violently: there was a wound behind the right ear, a fracture on top of the skull, a garotte around his neck and one of the vertebrae had been sliced when he was decapitated. Radiocarbon-dating placed Worsley Man around 100-200 AD.
A couple years ago a group of researchers from Universities of Manchester and Leicester began looking at Worsley Man again, and with the help of Prof Judith Adams of Manchester Hospitals were able to carry out a CT scan of the head. This showed that there was a previously unknown third vertebra in the flesh underneath the skull.
Last autumn Worsley Man was scanned again at the Materials Science Department to investigate the injuries in more detail. This work was the subject of a documentary that was broadcast earlier in the year. The members of the Worsley Man team who took part had to sign a non-disclosure agreement until the programme had been shown on TV. It is unfortunate that we were unable to study the scans and consult other members of the team before having to make a comment on camera about the scans.
A piece of bone deep in the flesh of Worsley Man looked like the point of a bone tipped spear, similar to examples found in Iron Age cemeteries in East Yorkshire but in retrospect this is much more likely to be the styloid process of the skull. However, it was till worthwhile doing the scans because they revealed details such as there are two planes where the third vertebra had been chopped. These and a previously unseen nick on the mandible and the fractures on top of the skull show that Worsley Man died violently.
If the rest of the body had been found, there might be further evidence of injuries. Although the police searched Worsley moss for five days in 1958 they didn’t find any more remains. However, this does not mean that there were no remains to be found. It was an extensive search area, the people involved weren’t archaeologists, and seeing remains in these circumstances is by no means an easy task, as the account of the finding of Lindow Man’s remains by Rick Turner in 1984 shows.
No further detail of the ligature was seen on the scans because the material out of which the ligature was made and the tissue of the neck are so similar that we cannot differentiate between them. In fact it may possibly be the case that the ligature is part of the neck tissue.
One further piece of work to be done is isotopic analysis of tooth enamel to determine if possible where Worsley man came from. This might tell us whether Worsley Man was a local or an in-comer. If the radiocarbon date is correct in placing Worsley man in the 2nd century AD, he can hardly be a prisoner-of-war unless this happened during one of the periodic rebellions against Roman rule that took place in northern Britain. However, if (and it is a big if) we follow Rene Girard’s sacrificial theory, the scapegoating of victims during a time of crisis only ‘works’ if the victim is a member of the community caught up in the ‘sacrificial crisis’, so we ought to expect isotopic analysis to show he was a local not an outsider.
It seems that each new analysis raises further questions. Oh well, see you in the gallery same time next year!