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Archaeology puts skeletons in the spotlight

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Ray Mears being filmed talking to Jo Buckberry with a skeleton laid on a bench

Bushcraft expert Ray Mears, best known for his tv programmes on wilderness survival, has recently spent the day at the University of Bradford as part of an upcoming tv programme on the history of archery.

While on campus, he learnt valuable information on the subject from a couple of strong, silent fellows in the Keith Manchester Laboratory, as well as Dr Jo Buckberry, Reader in Biological Anthropology, who was able to translate the silent clues given by the 550 year old skeletons.

 The tv programme, to be broadcast on on-demand channel History Hit later this year, looks at what the casualties of the Battle of Towton - some of whom have been studied by the Queen’s Anniversary Prize winning Archaeology team at the University - can tell us about the use of bow and arrows during the War of the Roses.

 Ray has spent much of his career travelling the world to understand indigenous and tribal bushcraft, and is now looking closer to home to uncover the secrets of medieval Britain: “I want to know how people utilised the materials and resources around them, and archaeology can provide some clues.

“I can provide a lifetime’s experience of utilising the materials and the resources to the archaeologists, which they don’t have, so there’s a really good symbiosis from that, that we can all gain a better understanding of how things might have been.”

 Jo Buckberry said “It was a delight to work with Ray, and to be able to share my knowledge of how activities, like archery, can shape our skeletons, and to learn from him the different stances used by archers for different bows. 

The Towton individuals form part of our collection of over 4,500 skeletons, which are used in our undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, offering unrivalled opportunity to learn about peoples’ lives in the past. 

A lifelong learner, and always keen to pass on his knowledge, Ray believes that we can all learn from the past: “Britain has amazing archaeology because British history is truly astonishing. I think the past should be studied, warts and all, and we should keep that in the open so that we can discuss and have a mature debate about the mistakes that society made in the past, so that we can learn to be better people in the future.

“With the knowledge, experience and expertise here [at the University of Bradford] anyone coming to study archaeology here will have access to all of that, and that is amazing.”

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