Planet Earth

Decapitated, Lion-Chewed Remains = Ancient Gladiator Graveyard

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaJun 8, 2010 8:06 PM


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As archaeologists dug up the ancient corpse, something looked a little off. For one, it didn't have a head. Second, one of the skeleton's arms looked like it supported a lot more muscle than the other. Third, it seemed a lion had chewed on it. Meet a dead Roman gladiator. Archaeologists uncovered around eighty such skeletons in York, England over the past seven years. Though they admit that the 1,600- to 1,800-year-old corpses might have had other origins, the researchers say all signs point to the ancient circus. A decapitated corpse suggests that individual got a thumbs down from the jeering crowds, the mismatched arms signify much swordplay, and the bite marks imply that a lion, tiger, or bear had taken a taste in battle. Michael Wysocki, who examined the remains in the forensic anthropology laboratory at the University of Central Lancashire, discussed those tell-tale bite marks with CNN:

"Nothing like them has ever been identified before on a Roman skeleton.... It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago," he said.

One other clue comes from the fact that the skeletons, despite their violent lives and deaths, had what appears a ceremonial burial, resting in their graves with some great ancient goodies (i.e. horse bones and cow remains, the believed leftovers from a feast). Still, archeologists speculate that none of these fighters were the stars of their day, and that many bit the dust after only one or two battles. "You're seeing the losers instead of the Russel Crowes," archeologist Kurt Hunter-Mann said in a CNN video. Related content: Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Blue is for losers DISCOVER: Dressed to Kill DISCOVER: Gladiators Get a Thumbs Up DISCOVER: Thumb and Thumber

Image: flickr / storem

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