Physical evidence of a crucifixion from Roman period found in UK

Archaeologists from Albion Archaeology have discovered evidence of a crucifixion from the Roman period in Cambridgeshire, England.

The discovery was made in 2017 prior to the construction of housing, with the results now published in the latest edition of British Archaeology magazine by the Council for British Archaeology.

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Archaeologists found the burial of a man in a wooden structure (possibly a bier), aged between 25 to 35 years of age in a small cemetery near the Roman settlement at Fenstanton, between Roman Cambridge and Godmanchester.

He has an iron nail penetrating his right heel bone (calcaneum) in a horizontal position, which the researchers believe is consistent with the practise of crucifixion, where his feet would have been nailed to the sides of an upright timber.

Image Credit : Albion Archaeology

During the Roman period, crucifixion was a gruesome public spectacle used to punish slaves, pirates and enemies of the state. The practice was originally reserved for slaves to set an example, but was later extended to citizens of the lower classes.

Very few examples have been documented across the Roman world, but the latest discovery gives one of the first cases of physical evidence to show the practice took place in the UK.

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Skeletal remains have been radiocarbon dated to between AD 130 and 360, with an anthropological study suggesting his ankles may have been shackled.

The nail was not identified until conservation occurred off site. Prolonged analysis by Corinne Duhig, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge who examined the human remains, established crucifixion as the only likely explanation. Signs of punitive injuries and immobilisation before and around the time of death, says Duhig, suggest the victim may have been a slave.

An enamelled copper-alloy horse-and-rider brooch – Image Credit : Albion Archaeology

David Ingham, who led the excavations, said: “The scale of remains at the site indicates a previously unknown Roman roadside village. Other finds include unusual evidence for industrial processing of cattle bones, perhaps for cosmetics and soap; an enamelled copper-alloy horse-and-rider brooch and other copper-alloy items suggesting there may have been a temple or shrine nearby; and a rare “bustum” burial, where pyre and human remains were buried together at the cremation site.”

British Archaeology Magazine

British Archaeology is the magazine of the Council for British Archaeology. The voice of archaeology in the UK, the charity champions archaeology and public participation, bringing together community, commercial, academic and heritage organisations to create and share opportunities in archaeology.

Header Image Credit : Albion Archaeology


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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