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Last Monday at 09:24 pm

The 2000 year old head…

When Wendy Gallagher and Louise Sutherland asked me if I could offer an event as part of the Who Cares? Museums, Health and Wellbeing? Programme I immediately thought of the recent work we have been doing on Worsley Man. This 2000-year-old head was found in a peat bog or moss near Manchester during the 1950s. The head was remarkably well–preserved and the Police investigated in case this was the head of modern murder victim. The Coroner’s inquest found that Worley Man lived in the Iron Age and so was an ancient body and no further investigation was necessary.

There the matter rested until the 1980s when another macabre discovery was made in one of the region’s peat bogs. In the summer of 1984 a more complete bog body was found at Lindow Moss near Manchester. Again there was a suggestion that the body might be that of modern murder victim but after radiocarbon dating showed it was ancient, the body, known as Lindow Man, was released to the British Museum. A team of archaeologists, anatomists and forensics experts investigated the body and found sensational evidence that Lindow Man had been hit on the head, garrotted and had his throat cut.

The publicity surrounding Lindow Man reminded staff at the Manchester Museum of the earlier Worsley Man discovery. The head was eventually traced to a pathology laboratory and, inspired by the Lindow Man project, a fresh programme of research begun. Detailed investigation showed that Worsley Man too had been killed by blows to the head, garrotting and a cut to his throat. Remains of the ligature still survive around his neck. Both Worsley Man and Lindow Man dated from the early Roman period in Northern Britain. Facial reconstructions of both heads were made and give a life-like impression of the men.

In 2011 a team including medical and archaeological experts from Nottingham Trent University, Bryan Sitch and Professor John Prag from the Manchester Museum, Professor Judith Adams, Consultant and Honorary Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Manchester and John Denton started to investigate Worsley Man’s injuries in greater detail. As part of this work Worsley Man’s head was scanned at the radiology department at the Manchester Children’s Hospital.

Most medical staff could be forgiven for running a mile at the prospect of a 2000-year-old patient but they were positively looking forward to, and excited about the prospect of, working with Worsley Man. Of course, scanning technology has moved on considerably since the first scans were taken of Lindow Man in the 1980s. Further refinements have been made even since the latest work carried out on the Worsley Man head in the early 1990s.

The reasons why the head of Worsley Man and the body of Lindow Man were put in a bog remain a mystery. However, the fact that only the head of Worsley Man was found is very significant because the head was of huge significance to native people in Northern Britain at that time. This suggests that Worsley Man died as part of some ritual perhaps in honour of a local god. The evidence shows that his was a violent death, echoing what we know of some bog bodies on the continent. Perhaps Worsley Man was a scapegoat. We can only speculate but good quality scans will hopefully shed more light on this intriguing discovery. The beauty of the CT scans is that this work can be done without running the risk of damaging the head.  Worsley Man is, understandably, very fragile.

Bryan Sitch

You can find out more about Worsley Man at 1pm, on Friday 10th March, when Bryan Sitch, Curator of Archaeology at the Manchester Museum and Professor Judith Adams Consultant and Honorary Professor of Diagnostic Radiology of the University of Manchester, talk about the latest work in Education North, Seminar Room 8.