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The story of the 'Gristhorpe Man' is launched

Published: 2014/01/14

A book launch will be held this Friday (17 January) at the William Smith Museum of Geology, Scarborough for a monograph on Britain's best - preserved Early Bronze Age skeleton.

The book called ‘Gristhorpe Man: a life and death in the Bronze Age’ incorporates the results of scientific studies undertaken during 2005 - 2008 in the Department of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford University. The book has been edited by Nigel Melton, Janet Montgomery and Christopher Knusel and published by Oxbow Books

On 10 July 1834 William Beswick, a local landowner with antiquarian interests, set out with friends and workmen to investigate a barrow on his land on the cliff top at Gristhorpe, some six miles (9.5 km) to the south of Scarborough. At a depth of more than 2 metres they encountered a massive oak log 2.3 m long and more than 1 m in diameter that had been preserved in the waterlogged conditions of the grave. They returned the following day with a number of gentlemen from the Scarborough Philosophical Society and set up a windlass to raise the log. In the course of this operation the ‘log’ split, revealing it to be hollowed out and to contain a perfectly preserved skeleton, stained black by the tannic acid in the oak, wrapped in an animal skin and accompanied by a range of grave goods. The latter included a bronze dagger blade and whale bone pommel, flints, and a bark vessel containing what they considered to be food residue.

William Beswick donated the finds to the Scarborough Philosophical Society Museum the same day and Gristhorpe Man, his coffin and grave goods have (apart from a brief period in WW2 when they were removed for safety) been on display in Scarborough ever since, with little further work being undertaken on them. The transfer of the finds to Bradford University and the expertise, support and assistance of the staff and students in Archaeological Sciences provided an ideal opportunity to re-examine them using a range of modern techniques.

The monograph documents all the analyses made on the skeleton, the results of which have now been incorporated into the museum display, together with chapters written by leading Bronze Age archaeologists on the historical and archaeological context of this exceptional and enigmatic individual.

Several members of staff at the University of Bradford were involved in the project including Dr Cathy Batt Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences. The transfer of the finds to Bradford was supervised by Mr Rob Janaway, and the subsequent conservation of the finds was undertaken by Rob, Dr Sonia O’Connor and Dr Andy Wilson.

The project also benefited from a range of external and international experts from the National Museum Scotland, the British Museum and from Universities across the World.

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