New Study Sheds Light on Brutal English Torture Method Used 1000 Years Ago

2020-10-07 | Since 8 Month

About 1,100 years ago in early medieval England, a teenage girl met a horrific end; her nose and lips were cut off with a sharp weapon, and she may have been scalped, according to a new analysis of her skull.

No one knows why the young woman's face was mutilated, but her injuries are consistent with punishments historically given to female offenders. If this woman's wounds were a punishment, then she would be the earliest person on record in Anglo-Saxon England to receive the brutal punishment of facial disfiguration, researchers wrote in a new study, published in October's issue of the journal Antiquity.

"We can only speculate as to what happened in this instance, but the highly formalized nature of the woman's injuries suggests penalties for specific actions," study lead researcher Garrard Cole, an honorary research fellow at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, told the Live Science website.

The skull was originally discovered in the 1960s, during excavations prior to the construction of a housing development in the village of Oakridge, in the southern county of Hampshire, England. However, scientists didn't analyze the skull at the time, and it was unclear whether the skeletal remains of the body were also buried there.

Instead, the skull was put in a collection curated by what is now the Hampshire Cultural Trust. Recently, the skull was rediscovered during an audit of that collection, and the cranium was still covered with soil, indicating it had not been examined.

A few tests revealed clues about the individual: An anatomical analysis indicated the skull belonged to a 15- to 18-year-old; a DNA analysis showed the individual was female; radiocarbon dating suggested that the teenager lived sometime between CE 776 and 899.

An analysis of different isotopes from her teeth suggested that she didn't grow up in an area with chalk hills, meaning she wasn't born or raised in most of central and eastern southern England.

The team also assessed the skull's wounds. The marks around the nose and mouth were severe. The researchers also noticed a shallow cut across the teenager's forehead, which we interpreted as evidence for hair removal.

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