Professor Sue Black and her team use forensic science to shed light on the past. They look at bones that might belong to a family from 2,000 years ago.
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At Dundee's Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification
the history cold case team is about to take on a dramatic new case
surrounding a major, unsolved archaeological mystery.
Our next case? Wonderful name, it's called Windy Pits.
We've got human remains that are spanning across 3,000 years.
Setting up a mobile forensic lab
they'll investigate the puzzling remains of more than 20 people
discovered here in underground caves.
They're believed to be some of the oldest human bones
ever found in Britain.
Location - even better. The remote North Yorkshire Moors.
-Oh, my neck of the woods.
Who are they, and why are their bones here?
It perhaps would have taken four or five people to hold him down.
Are the caves simply Iron Age graveyards,
or is there a more sinister explanation
for how this became the final resting place of so many people?
If these bones came up as a forensic case,
I would be advising the police
that we need to look at this a lot more closely.
The investigation will shine a light
on a long-forgotten period of our ancient history.
A time of brutal rituals
and bizarre beliefs,
when people lived in fear of what lay beneath the surface of the earth.
The coup de grace - there'll be a great spurt of blood!
Can modern forensics finally solve the mystery
of what happened at the Windy Pits?
And what dark and surprising new truths will emerge
about how we lived 2,000 years ago?
The skeletons at the centre of this investigation
were excavated from an extraordinary network of limestone caves,
carved deep into the landscape of the North York Moors.
There are believed to be 22 people among the remains.
But information about who they were and how they died
has remained tantalizingly beyond our reach.
With so many questions still unanswered,
local archaeologists carefully lay out the bones again
in a mobile forensic unit
close to where they were first excavated.
They hope a brand new investigation,
using science as well as historical analysis,
will help explain what happened here.
Well, this is interesting.
Forensic anthropologist Dr Xanthe Mallett
arrives to make the first visual assessment of the bones,
before reporting back to team leader Professor Sue Black in Dundee.
There's a huge amount of work to do here.
There's going to be 22 individuals we believe, maybe more, maybe less,
but you've got to ask what they're doing out on the middle of North Yorkshire Moors.
And when you've got 3,000 years' worth of history involved,
I can't for a moment imagine what that's going to turn into.
Archaeologist Graham Lee brings Xanthe up to speed
with how this unique, unusual hoard of human remains was discovered.
Been looking forward to you coming in actually,
because this is a real puzzle we've got going on here.
What do you know about them?
All of the bones here have come from things called windy pits
which are natural fissures where the rock has cracked apart
and created some quite deep caverns in the edge of the valleys.
And when people started exploring the Windy Pits
they started finding these fragments of human bone.
The remains are thought to span several thousand years,
from Roman times right back to around 2,000 BC.
The team wants to focus their enquiry
on a group of four individuals
that were found together in one of the deepest caves,
known as Slip Gill.
All of these come from just one of the windy pits, Slip Gill,
which is one of the deepest and steepest of the fissures.
These have been radiocarbon dated
to about the middle of the first century BC,
to the beginning of the second century AD.
They were found in a heap at the bottom of the windy pit
and it's virtually a sort of, I don't know... 23, 25-metre drop,
pretty much straight down from the entrance.
So they've all ended up being squashed together
at the bottom, together with rocks and other debris.
The suggestion has been made that it could be a family.
But why might a family end up dead in a cave?
At the site where they were found, Xanthe sees for herself
why these mysterious caves are called the Windy Pits.
We're now above Slip Gill,
which is one of the deepest windy pits.
Can you see the... All the vegetation's moving here
and that's a result of the hot draught coming up from the mouth of the windy pit.
I can see why this would have been a really mysterious place.
-It looks spooky, doesn't it?
-It does, yes.
-Oh, you can feel the warm air from here really well, can't you?
The human bones found in Slip Gill date from around the first century AD.
There was a series of expeditions into these fissures,
say, through the 1950s.
I'm not sure that you would look at them
-and say that everyone is necessarily clad that appropriately for caving.
-Some hard hats...
-..And some ropes, that's pretty much it, and a spade.
And they were the people that recovered
the bits and pieces of the bodies from the bottom.
Since being found in the 1950s,
the bones have been the subject of much study and debate.
But the job of this new investigation
is to look at the evidence again with fresh eyes,
and without being influenced by any previous theories.
Back in the mobile laboratory,
Xanthe begins the task of making sense of the puzzling remains.
She will look for signs that could confirm age, gender
and any evidence of trauma.
But the incompleteness of the skeletons will prove a major hurdle
in trying to establish the identities of the dead.
Not very much here with this one.
No skull, no pelvis,
not very much at all.
Initially, we're looking... certainly at an adult individual.
Pretty... Pretty robust femur,
been reconstructed slightly,
so first gut feeling would be that this is probably a male.
Luckily we've got quite a bit of the skull on this one,
so this might actually work for reconstruction.
As her initial examination continues
she spots a curious injury on the jawbone of the one of the males.
Now, that might be our first sign of significant trauma.
This is a... It looks like a sharp-force trauma
to the side of the mandible,
which would just be along your jaw line.
This is not an injury that's happened a reasonable time before death
and the bone has started to regenerate.
Initial impression would be that this is an injury
that could have occurred around the time of death.
So at least one of the four people from Slip Gill
may not have died of natural causes.
So we've got some interesting elements mixed in,
we've got some sharp-force trauma...
on a fairly robust group.
By forensically retracing events around the scene of death
and gaining clues as to who these people were in life,
can they uncover what happened here?
This case promises to drag the team back
to a largely-unrecorded period of our history.
It's a rare opportunity to build a personalized account
of life and death in Britain 2,000 years ago.
Back at Headquarters in Dundee,
they must first agree on the direction the investigation will take.
Xanthe brings Professor Sue Black up to speed,
along with Professor Caroline Wilkinson,
who's in charge of facial reconstruction.
One of the cave sites
is literally just kind of like a hole in this bowl in the earth.
Basically, it goes straight down, it's like a chimney
and so people have obviously been deposited in here
and we're not sure why.
To help understand the shape and size
of the Slip Gill cave where the four skeletons were found,
Xanthe shows them a 3-D reconstruction.
The CGI will really help you get a kind of visual
on the type of system we're talking about.
So this is kind of open, desolate moorland.
-This is going down into the cave, so you can see the shaft.
It's huge, isn't it? It's amazing.
So, you can see how bodies would have tumbled down here,
once they get kind of down the channel and over that ridge,
this is where they would have landed.
Presumed to be the bones of a man, a woman and two teenagers,
the obvious questions is, why?
You've got to wonder why they're putting people in here.
Is this ritualistic?
Is this just vindictive of people just being, you know, murdered and, in essence, hidden?
-You're concealing them.
To try and get some concrete answers about who these people were,
bone samples taken in the field will go forward for forensic testing.
DNA is the obvious one.
Obviously, are we looking for a biological relationship
which ties all or any of four individuals? Yeah.
Carbon dating has already been carried out on the bones
placing then around the turn of the first century AD.
-So that really only leaves us with stable isotopes.
Yep. So, obviously, with that, we're going to be wondering
are they local, were they always local?
-It'll tell us a bit about diet as well.
And possibly quality of life, standard, that kind of thing as well.
-So, with me doing the stable isotopes.
So besides all of the tests we can do
we really need to look at the context, the wider context.
Who was potentially using this as a burial site,
-deposition site, or was this accidental?
Why? The bigger picture.
It's a real kind of intriguing puzzle, isn't it?
-Yes, it's not... It's not normal.
-No, it isn't normal.
-No, nothing normal about this.
-So there is a story.
It's about finding out what the most likely story is.
The damaged jawbone belonging to the teenage male
is the only hard evidence they have so far
that this might not be a straightforward or innocent burial.
But it's enough to rouse Sue's suspicions.
The likely scenario's sounding as if
what we've got is a suspicious situation,
where four individuals are found at the bottom of a very long shaft,
in the middle of remote moors,
but there are other caves around it,
where obviously something untoward must have gone on
at different times in history.
One of the first tests is DNA.
This could establish if the skeletons have more than their final resting place in common.
Are they a family? Do we have mum, dad and two adolescent children?
The only way we're going to be able to find that out
is if we can extract DNA, and we can match them through DNA.
But the older the bones, the harder it is to get meaningful results
and science alone won't be enough to solve this case.
The carbon dating places our skeletons
in the early part of the Roman occupation.
But if our people were locals,
theirs would likely be a very pre-Roman way of life,
much as people had existed in and around the moors for millennia.
Xanthe has come to a traditional Iron Age village
to meet archaeologist Steve Sherlock.
She wants to understand how our people from Slip Gill
might have lived, and why their remains would be in a cave.
The individuals from Windy Pits - would they have lived somewhere like this?
They'd have lived in this sort of environment and structures.
-How many people would have lived in a house like this?
-One family, but about eight to ten people.
And how many houses like this would have made up a community?
There could have been four or five houses like this in a busy village.
-That's quite a large community then.
-Indeed it is.
And we mustn't just think of this one community,
-there would be another one quite close by.
-And they would've interacted?
They would've traded, farmed and communicated, supported and helped each other.
We're talking about a society, not individual groups.
During the Iron Age,
the Britain population topped three million people.
This was a sophisticated culture and society.
Steve explains how the part of the moors where the Windy Pits are located
were a sort of no-man's-land between two competing Celtic tribes.
The windy pits are an interesting area
because they're on the North Yorkshire Moors
which are, let's say, a neutral area between the tribes to the south called the Parisi
and the tribes to the north, of the Brigantes.
So it's probable that the Parisi were using the Windy Pits.
They're the people that are having sites and activities
-on the southern parts of the North Yorkshire Moors.
-Would the two different tribes have fought?
There may well have been territorial differences, but there's no evidence for battles as such.
Curiously, Steve is convinced that caves would not normally have been used for burials,
or deposition, as archaeologists call it.
The normal burial rite may well have been cremation scattering the ashes to the wind,
or being buried at locations nearer to the settlements,
a long way away from the Windy Pits.
So it's a really different type of deposition?
It's a different deposition in terms of choosing a location
and potentially only choosing certain people
to be buried at those points.
So people aren't living in the immediate vicinity?
It's taken a lot of people a lot of effort to bury people there.
Indeed. That tells you there's a religious action to this,
choosing people, location, for a special reason.
This points to the discovery of the skeletons at Slip Gill
being something unusual and special, even for Iron Age society.
How did the bodies end up several feet down in the dark, and why?
Might the bones finally give up some answers?
Back at Dundee HQ, the team is desperate for a new lead.
They assemble to receive the results of the DNA analysis.
Dr Ian Barnes from Royal Holloway, University of London,
has the difficult task of trying to answer the question
of whether the 2,000 year-old bones at Slip Gill
come from people who were genetically related.
We're hanging on your every word
in the hope that you give us something phenomenally exciting...
And...over to you!
-That face says everything. Go on.
We've had a couple of goes at getting DNA from this material
and there's just nothing that is reliable.
It looks to us like there's multiple sequences
laid over the top of each other
-so we think it's just contamination.
But I don't think there's any, um, real DNA from those individuals
in the samples that you gave us.
It's disappointing news.
Ian thinks that the bones may have become contaminated,
making it impossible to answer
whether the male, female and teenagers are related.
So it doesn't really help the story in any way,
because potentially they could still be family and linked genetically,
-we just can't tell.
Well, that's disappointing, but so be it. That's the way science goes.
-Thank you very much.
-Thanks for that, Ian.
Right, sorry about that.
Good to speak to you. Thanks again. Take care. Bye.
With DNA having failed to provide any leads,
Sue feels it's time she examined the bones herself.
To scour them for possible causes of death,
she starts by looking at the injury to the jawbone of the teenage male.
Her experience alerts her to how serious a blow this could have been.
It's one of the most dangerous places for men who are shaving -
just right there.
Because if you put your finger just lightly on there,
you'll feel an artery, pulsing underneath
and the facial artery comes up just on there.
Just perfectly where that is, may I say.
So that what you have is a real nick into the bone.
That's not a thin-bladed implement, we've got a large blade.
So whether you're talking...axe, you're talking machete,
something that is a large blade.
It's not like a little, thin kitchen knife,
because you have a wide entrance
and a narrow point at which it's come to a stop,
before it's been pulled out.
And so that when that implement has come up onto that jaw line,
what it's then done is, it's caused fracturing to run across here
and up there and then up towards the base of this tooth.
Sue believes this wasn't self-inflicted.
He may have been murdered.
It certainly will have caused a lot of pain and a lot of bleeding.
It could have resulted in death.
This has been caused by somebody else.
Somebody has inflicted this on this individual
and it's a young individual.
And then, on the leg bones of the adult male, she spots more suspicious marks.
This is a pattern that's quite consistent
with a fracture occurring in what's called a green bone.
So it behaves very differently from an old bone
that doesn't have much water content and organic material still left in it.
What we don't have is any evidence of healing.
So this is consistent with the person - perhaps dead,
perhaps not quite dead -
being dropped down onto a height.
There's no proof yet,
but Sue feels that taking all the evidence so far,
a picture of suspicious death is definitely emerging for this group.
If these bones came up as a forensic case
I would be advising the police to look at this a lot more closely.
There's something very suspicious going on here.
You might cut yourself shaving,
but you sure as heck don't cut yourself shaving at that depth.
So that the sharp trauma injury, if nothing else,
is decidedly suspicious.
Xanthe has an agonizing wait to return to Slip Gill.
She's keen to test the theory
that the breaks on the leg bones of the adult male
could have been caused by falling into the cave.
But the caves are an important roosting site for bats
and access is restricted.
Finally, Spring arrives and she's able to meet up again
with archaeologist Graham Lee and local caver Martin Roe.
Lovely to meet you. Is it dangerous in there? Have you got any idea?
For anybody that didn't have the right equipment and knew how to use it then potentially it is,
because just behind me here is a 16-metre drop straight to the floor.
-That is deep, isn't it? Straight down?
-Straight down, yeah.
Even an experienced caver like Martin
thinks twice about entering Slip Gill.
He'll carefully descend to show Xanthe the inside of the cave
via a camera attached to his helmet.
For the first time, she will see the real anatomy
of the final resting place of the skeletons.
The first few metres of Slip Gill are on a shallow incline
before Martin reaches the main shaft.
-MARTIN ON RADIO:
-'Just to let you know what I'm doing.
'I'm moving towards the top of the big drop'
and you should be seeing the big, dark hole in front of me.
-Look at that.
-That's like going into the abyss, isn't it?
Yeah, you can see, there's nothing under him there.
The cave is 16-metres deep, certainly a potentially fatal drop.
A series of overhanging rocks
make the final descent particularly perilous.
That must be pretty scary in there.
-It's pitch black, except for that little light coming from the head-torch.
Oh, dear! That wasn't very clever!
So he's going to be now touching down where the bodies were found,
-on that kind of scree slope?
So I'm at the bottom now.
'What I'll do now is I'll turn on the big light'
and show you how far I've come down from the surface.
XANTHE ON RADIO: 'OK, great. Thanks.'
-Wow, look at that!
It's an extraordinary place,
and one that's remained unchanged for thousands of years.
-That is a long way.
-So you can see the nature of the fissure.
That's very... It's very slim on the way down, isn't it?
-Yeah, it is. It's a very narrow slot. That's fantastic.
And this ties in with the idea that our man fell from a height.
So once the body went in there,
it's going to slide down that chimney,
bounce off some rocks, off the ledge, and land at the bottom?
-Down on this scree slope down here.
Wow! I just can't imagine anyone getting out of that alive.
Xanthe's happy that the man's injuries
are consistent with the cave being the scene of death.
But why were these people here?
What was the significance of this place?
Oh There he is, hello! How are you doing?
I'm a bit sweaty. But in one piece.
Quite relieved to have you back with us.
Yeah, very much so.
Meanwhile in Dundee, Caroline is beginning the facial reconstruction.
None of the four skeletons in the group has a complete skull,
but Caroline is hoping there are enough pieces
to rebuild the face of the adult male.
Well, we've got quite a lot of pieces
and it looks like, when you hold them next to each other,
that they do fit -
that piece clearly fits against there.
And we've got large sections that have already been reassembled
that need a little bit of adjustment,
but again, you've got other large pieces that fit.
But this isn't really a problem for us
because we can scan them with the scanner
and then you can see the join lines on the scan
and we can just adjust the piece in the computer
so it makes it a whole lot easier
than having to get rid of this glue and re-glue it.
But one crucial part of his skull is missing.
I notice we've got no nasal bones, just at the top of the nose here,
which are quite important in predicting the nose.
But that seems like the only bit of the nose that's missing,
so we can do some estimation from that.
Now that Caroline has examined the 2,000 year-old skull,
she will use some very 21st century technology to rebuild it.
Xanthe's research has indicated
caves were not usually used in Iron Age burial practices.
So, she needs to continue on the trail of investigating why a cave like Slip Gill
would have been significant.
She travels to the Dales to meet Tom Lord from Lancaster University.
Thank you very much.
And, er, we've got a rather atmospheric day to visit a cave.
Tom believes that for our ancestors, caves had special significance.
Ooh, look at this. It's certainly very dark and imposing.
We're going underground, literally into another world, an underworld.
-And is that how our ancestors would have seen this place?
-I think so.
Helmet... And we're going into the underworld.
OK. Yes, please!
It gets darker, gradually.
It gets dark immediately, doesn't it?
The cave is wet, it's dripping...
Tom has found evidence pointing to how caves were used in the Iron Age,
including human bones and artefacts.
He thinks the way in which precious objects like these were placed
suggests that caves were spiritually very important.
That's a perforated piece of red deer antler.
-This isn't a bone that I recognise.
-It's red deer antler.
If you hold it up, can you see the careful hole drilled through it?
You can see it's been drilled through.
-Its probably been on a shaft.
-Is this a weapon of some sort?
-It might be used as a hammer.
And this was on a ledge about 45-feet down,
so it could only have been put down, it couldn't have fallen there.
But this would've been valuable. Someone's gone to a lot of time to make this into a hammer...
You're not going to leave that down a cave without good reason.
Tom believes valuable objects were placed in caves
perhaps as votive offerings, or as part of rituals.
What we might be seeing, down some of these deep shafts,
beginning about 5,000 years ago,
-is actual sacrifice of human and animals at certain times.
So these could be offerings to the Gods?
-Offering to the gods of the...
-Of the underworld.
This idea of an underworld crops up throughout history
and across cultures.
And caves were seen as portals to a mysterious place
between the surface world and another.
Tom's evidence also suggests a new explanation
for how the Slip Gill individuals may have died.
He believes they may have been part of some kind of ritual sacrifice.
The archaeologists tell us
that there's a distinct possibility that there's a ritualistic element
to the way in which these individuals have landed up in these caves.
We unquestionably have got evidence of interpersonal violence
before these individuals have met their death.
There's some evidence of when they've gone down the pit
there is long-bone fracturing because of the drop,
but there's no evidence that those have healed.
If they've been alive at the bottom of the pit, it's not for very long.
But, you know, that's just looking at the evidence from the bones,
I think it's most likely that they were killed
before they went down the pit.
To test this new theory
that the people of Slip Gill were consciously sacrificed,
the bones are sent to the nearby Ninewells hospital for CT scanning.
This should reveal new information not visible to the naked eye.
The evidence already points to the adult male having fractured his leg,
but Sue and her colleague, Dr Roos Eisma,
now spot some new evidence,
this time on the thigh bone belonging to the adult female.
Look on that femur -
that's a beautiful butterfly-type fracture.
That's the kind of fracture that is green bone.
So it's bone that's gone down
that's still got all its pliability and its plasticity,
and it's fractured. It produces just such a different pattern.
So, like the other femur, I think that's a perimortem,
a "round about the time of death" type fracture.
Isn't that interesting?
They found exactly the same type of break
in the male and female adult thigh bones,
caused around the time of death.
Sue doesn't think it is just a coincidence.
She thinks it could point to a deliberate attempt to immobilise the two adults.
You know, we've got two femora now that have got perimortem trauma.
Why just in one bone?
Why is it just the leg that's broken?
-In more or less the same place.
-In more or less the same place, yeah.
It just makes you wonder
if that's part of the incapacitation of the individual. I don't know.
You don't tend to run very fast if you've got a broken leg.
This new evidence begs the question,
what method could have been used to do this?
Were there weapons available back then
which could fit this pattern of trauma?
And then, there is also the injury on the jaw of the teenage boy.
Could this tie in with those seen on the adults?
It could be the same implement that causes both sharp force
and blunt force trauma.
It just depends which bit you hit it with.
So, the back of an axe causes blunt force trauma,
but the front of an axe causes sharp force trauma.
We have what we think is evidence of sharp force trauma on the mandible,
so it could be the same implement that can cause it,
but just used in a different way.
The breaks to the femurs on both the adults support the idea
that the skeletons died at the same time
and, possibly, by the same method.
It's a breakthrough for the team.
This and the potentially fatal blow to the head on the teenage boy
now leads to new questions.
If we are now looking at human sacrifice, how and why did they die?
Xanthe takes these latest findings to Professor Miranda Aldous Green
from Cardiff University, an expert in Iron Age rituals.
She agrees that the skeletons show signs
of having been ritually sacrificed.
Given the fact that you seem to have repeated injuries
and given where they've been put, in a cave system,
that rings warning bells, in terms of possible sacrificial activity.
The fact that it is going on over a long time
suggests that this place is special
and particular people who have met deaths in a ritualistic way
may have been placed there deliberately.
Miranda believes that some uniquely-preserved bodies,
found not in caves, but in marshland
could offer an explanation for exactly how and why the Slip Gill individuals met their death.
We have a particular group of individuals, called Bog Bodies,
which are found in swamps or marshes all over North-West Europe.
A lot of them, interestingly, are quite young and show signs of traumatic injury,
sometimes over time, but then would lead to their death.
What types of injury are you seeing?
Well, persistently, hanging and garrotting -
various forms of suffocation. You do get bloodletting.
Some have been disembowelled, throats cut, but there
is this very strong evidence, from the European Iron Age
and into the Roman period, of people who,
every so often, were chosen for some reason
to be sacrificed in a particularly spectacular way
and thrust deep into a marsh.
So, you are looking at marsh bodies,
but the individuals I am looking at are from a cave.
-Would that be considered ritualistic?
-I think so.
The whole thing with bogs and caves is that they are so-called
liminal places, they are edgy places,
they are on the boundaries between the material world
and the world of the dead.
Bog bodies discovered the world over provide historians with ample evidence about human sacrifice.
Much of the soft tissue remains, revealing crucial forensic details.
One of the most famous is Lindow Man,
who is thought to date from the same period as the Windy Pits skeletons.
-Ooh, now, that's Lindow Man?
-Yes, indeed. From Cheshire.
Found in August, 1984, when peat-cutting was going on.
He was found in the peat
and he had been bludgeoned hard on the head twice.
-And then he had been garrotted and his throat cut.
And he had various other traumas, as well.
He had been kneed in the back, as though somebody had forced him to kneel down.
-So, all sorts of other injuries.
Yes. And he was probably of quite high status.
His moustache was very carefully trimmed,
using shears, which were an expensive piece of kit,
and his fingernails showed that he had never done any manual work.
He was about 25 years old, so he would have been in prime condition.
Who knows who he was? He could have been a hostage,
he could have been some kind of criminal, but more likely,
he had chosen to be a sacrifice, I suspect, at a time of great crisis.
Having studied the evidence in detail,
Miranda has come up with a scenario of what happened during an Iron Age human sacrifice.
And it all centres on the idea of overkill.
If you're going to sacrifice me, what are you going to do?
I might drug you, give you some herbs or some psychotropic substance to make you more acquiescent.
You might struggle otherwise.
-And then, I would then turn you round, away from me...
..give you two hard blows on the skull. That will crack the skull,
by which time you are stunned, perhaps hovering on the edge of consciousness,
and beginning to weave around. Don't forget this is theatre.
-Lots of people watching.
-We're putting on a show.
The next thing I'm going to do is to garrotte you.
I'm going to leave that in place, so you are now on the verge of death, but not quite dead.
OK, hold that thought.
And then, the coup de grace. I will slit your throat.
And because of the garrotte, there will be a great spurt of blood
and a great cheer from all the community. And the sacrifice will be complete.
-Now, I'm dead, for sure.
Why so many ways of doing it? You've drugged me, strangled me, now you're slitting my throat.
It's partly because the overkill violence is necessary
for the sacrifice to be really effective.
Look at the investment of time and trouble and effort there has been in sacrificing you.
But also, I've got to represent the entire community, who are sacrificing you,
perhaps to cleanse the community of all their sins and wickednesses and ills and pollution.
So if you don't have a marshy environment, you've only got the caves. What would happen then?
The death would happen, the killing would happen outside the cave
and you would then be deposited.
-There must be rituals and prayers and fires, perhaps feasting.
All to do with sending your soul to that place where it can't do any more harm.
The community is cleansed.
And Miranda also believes that other rituals linked to sacrifice,
such as removing the soft tissue from a corpse,
can leave marks on the bones, too.
But the condition of the bones from Slip Gill remain a challenge
in the battle to resurrect a compelling scenario for how these people died.
Caroline's colleague Dr Chris Ryan has the task of reassembling the head of the adult male
before he can start work on his face.
Here we've got all the fragments reassembled
into approximately the shape of the skull.
As you can see, there's quite a large chunk of the right-hand side
of the cranium missing and some of the facial skeleton,
but we can....
Because we have the left-hand side quite intact,
we can estimate much of this by mirroring parts of the skull from one side to the other.
The green is just estimation of all the missing parts.
There's not enough of the mandible just to mirror it,
because we only have this chin area and three teeth.
The next stage will be to add layers of muscle and skin.
Soon, the face of the man who died at Slip Gill will emerge.
So, if our people at Slip Gill were sacrificed,
were they members of the local community or were they outsiders?
The team hopes the stable isotope analysis of the bones could shed some light on this.
If chemical signatures from the teeth and bones
are consistent with those found around the Yorkshire Moors,
then it will indicate the skeletons were born and then lived in the local area.
This could support Miranda's idea of community sacrifice.
Sue assembles the team for the results.
What they basically showed was a very good quality sample.
-Typical grain-based diet, almost no marine.
So that's quite interesting.
What it also showed was that they were local to the area.
Now the particular band they fall closest to is actually very localised to where they were found.
-It makes it more likely to be ritual than, um, just vindictive.
Yeah. I suppose it does.
Our Slip Gill people were locals,
and there was possible violence around the time of their death.
But if they were human sacrifices, did they offer themselves up willingly or were they executed?
Despite the evidence that's now building, Sue is reluctant to conclude a theory of foul play
until she has more proof.
'We're not ruling out the fact that it isn't necessarily ritual.'
We're not ruling out all these possibilities, because your imagination could run wild.
We're going to try and keep it as focused as we can.
As archaeologists say, got to bear ritual in mind, but what do the physicality of the bones tell us?
Is there anything on there that supports this or refutes it?
Until now, the team has focused on the four individuals from Slip Gill.
But 18 more skeletons were found in other Windy Pits caves around the same area.
Sue now turns her attention to some of these other remains.
It's an adult.
There's a lot of fracturing, so a lot of the joints have actually, where the sutures have sprung.
You can see that fracture again dissipating out into that suture,
with a lot of fracturing going on here,
so that the blow is to that point there.
So it's coming in round about here.
So again, I think we've got evidence in at least the three of these
of some form of blunt force trauma.
This was a male. An adult male.
This damage to these other skulls from a neighbouring cave
could mean that the other Windy Pits were used for rituals and sacrifices.
And as Sue starts to look at= the remains of a skeleton from yet another cave,
she notices some even more worrying marks on one of the shin bones.
This is a bit of tibia - this is a bit of the shin bone.
It's got a bit of damage at the top and at the bottom.
..there's three, what looks like three...
Well, those are not natural.
They're not rodent activity, either.
Those look like they could well be knife marks,
or at least a sharp blade.
These are parallel cut marks.
..a repeat of the same action, in the same place.
I used to work in a butcher's shop before I started my academic career,
and I can remember having to take pieces of meat off cow bones and such things
and these are the kind of marks that you leave behind
as you're paring away the muscle, to take it away from the bone.
That may well be...
No, it tends to make you want to go too far,
because what you end up doing is you want to go down the sensationalist route
and the last thing forensic wants to do is go down a sensationalist route,
but it looks like muscle's been removed.
Why do you remove muscle from a human bone?
I don't know.
I think we could all surmise.
If these are indeed blade marks,
the investigation looks set to take an even more sinister direction.
The word that everybody wants to say
is the one that we're not going to say,
which is cannibalism, because there's no evidence of that.
All you have is evidence of cut marks.
We don't know what that meat was being used for.
But nevertheless. it's a chilling turn in the story.
Xanthe wants to establish what cutting marks on bone could mean
and travels to Oxford University to meet Dr Rick Shulting,
an expert in prehistoric archaeology.
If I saw these kind of marks on an animal bone, I would think butchery.
But this is human,
so why are we getting these marks on a human leg bone?
It's unlikely that they were eating the flesh of this person,
like you would with an animal, because we have
questionable evidence for cannibalism at this time here.
If this was in the Neolithic, we might think of, sort of, trying to
deflesh the bones to make them clean, as a part of joining the ancestors.
But how does removing the soft tissue from the bones
help people go to their ancestors more quickly?
Some people in different times and parts of the world, believed that
death is a process and it's not complete until the putrefaction
of the body is completed and you're left with the clean bones.
And at that point, the soul, if you speak of it as that,
ascends to the ancestors.
And sometimes there is an interest in hastening that process
by disarticulation and defleshing.
According to Rick, the practice of removing flesh
is unlikely to be a sign of cannibalism,
but was a way of allowing the dead to cross over to the next world.
But there were also more sinister explanations.
We have to be open to various possibilities.
Some of them might deal with
the negative side of things, the dark side, if you will.
And there is some evidence for slightly strange
and odd things going on with human remains in the Iron Age
in different parts of Britain
that sometimes involve taking the body apart
and moving bits of it around.
The skull, especially, seems to receive special treatment.
So the cutting marks could fit in with the idea
of ritual dismemberment after death.
But how would the marks have been caused?
To find out, Xanthe and Rick head to a local butcher.
It is just about free.
Let me just take off the last few bits.
Now, actually you can see I have left some marks all along that edge.
You can see all of my butchery marks going along there.
Would I use a tool like this to get rid of the rest of this soft tissue,
which I have, kind of, left behind?
Possibly, but the other possibility is a stone tool might be used,
which we know people were still making and using in the Iron Age.
So kind of scraping it. That would save my knife.
I do have something with me that we could have a go with.
Save your lovely sharp blade.
It's not necessarily the sharpest, but it does have one nice edge here,
and you'll get a sense of what it's like to use that.
So I am going to hold this nice and steady, I guess,
and then just, what, scrape the soft tissue off?
You need to get a good hold of it, don't you?
There we go. It's actually pretty efficient. I am quite impressed.
Much sharper than I expected.
That's where a lot of the muscle attachments are joining to the bone,
just around the ends and, of course,
that's exactly where we saw them on the human bone.
You can actually see now,
I've left some quite deep grooves.
Xanthe has produced exactly the same marks on the pig bone
that she found on the human leg bone.
Rick wants to demonstrate one very specialised type of defleshing -
removing the skin from a person's scalp.
-All the way up?
-All the way up.
Why would you do that to a human head?
The head is very important in many societies.
We have a good case for it being important in Iron Age Britain
and Iron Age Europe, in general.
Are there any examples from the UK where the soft tissue has been moved from the head?
There's a few cases. There's one from St Albans,
where they seem to have had a defleshed head, in a place quite near a temple complex, actually,
which maybe speaks again of why you're doing this.
The idea of trophy heads or, possibly, as a punishment.
We have another case up in the north of Scotland, on the Moray Firth,
-where again, we have a child, in this case.
It looks like the skull has been cleaned back,
so they are interested in having this white clean bone to display, presumably.
So, it's really rare?
It is. There aren't many cases. It's not a normal practice,
so it's a very special person, or somebody that's done something
terribly wrong, or being made an example of.
Xanthe has discovered that de-fleshing the dead
was practised in Iron Age Britain.
Sometimes, it was associated with funerary ritual,
but maybe it served another purpose.
Human skeletal remains recovered from Windy Pits
show that some individuals most likely met a violent end,
possibly as part of a ritual sacrifice.
We know that at least one person had their flesh cut from the bone,
before ending up in a cave
waiting to be discovered thousands of years later.
Until now, all the people whose bones were found
in the caves on the moors have remained anonymous.
But finally, the face of one of them is taking shape...
The adult male from Slip Gill.
Our biggest problem with this skull was that it was
in multiple fragments and we didn't have very much of the mandible.
So Chris has done a fantastic job at reconstructing the mandible, from just a bit of chin,
which is remarkable. And getting the whole of the cranium together
in lots of pieces is also quite a difficult job.
From that, it's the same process as it would be for any reconstruction -
building the muscles and putting skin on.
So, the biggest challenge was the state of the skull.
Well, let's have a look at the skin.
And he's turning into an interesting-looking individual.
Wow, that's not what I was expecting to see, at all.
He actually looks quite masculine, really,
and I wasn't expecting him to look that masculine.
Cos the top of his head is quite... gracile really, isn't it?
And then he's got this big heavy jaw at the bottom.
And really small ears. Why really small ears?
-Small ears, small nose, height wise.
-I quite like him.
We've got a pretty reasonable face
out of really quite badly-conditioned skull.
The completion of the facial reconstruction
marks the end of the investigation.
The team will now report their findings to the local community.
Xanthe and Sue have come to Duncombe House, not far from the Windy Pits.
They're here to return the skeletal remains to the local archaeologists
and to present the case results.
Although they've made great strides,
Sue is concerned that they don't have enough evidence on the bones
to confirm that the man of Slip Gill was sacrificed.
Xanthe has gone away and done a lot of historical research
with a lot of people who know a lot about this area.
So we've gone back to the Slip Gill skeletons,
we've had a look through them again, just to be sure, just to be certain.
Sue looks at the Slip Gill remains one last time...
..and she notices something on the skull of the adult male that they missed before.
What have you found?
I don't know, but... This is sitting there.
-There's one line cut mark along there...
-It's quite deep.
-There's another below it.
And another one below that.
Sue has found several parallel cutting lines
around the top of the skull.
You have a cut mark that is - if I turn you round a bit -
you have got cut marks that are coming here
and then some that are back there.
It looks like Sue has detected signs of scalping on the adult male.
As Xanthe discovered, this practice of removing hair and skin
from the top of the head did happen in Iron Age Britain
and may have been part of ritualised killings.
For Sue, it's enough to finally to bring the events
surrounding the death of this man into focus.
I'm not a great supporter of defleshing and sacrifice and ritual, all sorts of things,
as anyone will tell you that knows me.
But sometimes, when you're faced with information
'and you go through all the possible outcomes,'
sometimes there's only one left.
These findings will have an even deeper significance for the local community
and the experts who have been studying the remains for decades.
We've waited a long time to get some more information about the remains from the Windy Pits,
so this is very important.
There's lots of unknown questions that, hopefully, we'll get some answers to today.
Sue and Xanthe explain the twists and turns in the case
that led to the conclusion that this was not a natural burial.
Did they go up there knowing what was going to happen to them?
Or did they go up there in some way incapacitated?
They're not being used as a normal deposition site for burials, so...
..potentially caused by that, because it does fit there
really rather nicely.
Then the moment comes for Sue to announce her last-minute discovery.
It takes an incredible amount of persuasion
for me to want to talk about sacrificing people to gods
and placing them down portals, so they don't come back.
It just makes me uncomfortable. But then, this morning,
we had a look a little bit closer at some of the areas,
as we were laying out the skeletons, and we came across something that we hadn't noticed before.
And it was all to do with this man.
On this man, and on his head only, we have evidence of defleshing.
We have parallel scratch marks that are of a similar width
in various parts across his skull. They're very, very delicate,
but they are there. If they're defleshing,
for whatever reason, they're only defleshing around the head,
almost in the sense of a scalping. The defleshing isn't on the face
and it isn't on the back of the head. It's just around the area of the crown.
-So they put a blade in and just scrape?
The cutting marks on the skull are the final piece of evidence
that at least one of the Slip Gill skeletons was almost certainly ritually killed.
It's a terrifying story.
We have placed him into an environment
which is a really rather scary, spooky sort of place,
that must have had some importance in the local community.
He's been taken there, perhaps immobilised,
he's been murdered, one can assume, whether by one people or by a community,
and then he's gone through a ritual removal of his scalp.
So his scalp has been scraped away.
But now, it's time for the team to reveal the face of the man whose life ended in such violence.
Because we only have one skull,
there was only one face we were able to reconstruct.
So do we want to see what he looked like?
Yeah. Go on, then.
He has quite a rugged face, hasn't he?
He looks like he was a pretty robust individual, doesn't he?
I quite like him. Slight asymmetry in the orbits.
Quite highly-defined cheekbones.
If you were walking round Helmsley today
and saw someone looking like that, you wouldn't look twice, would you?
When you think what he may have gone through
and you have to ask, why was he chosen?
What was so important about him? Was it because he was important in the area that he was selected?
We will never know. That is about conjecture.
But what we do know is that he suffered blunt-force trauma,
we know that his skull was defleshed.
Following the story and hearing more today,
it's been absolutely fascinating. It's filled in a lot of the picture.
That was really amazing, absolutely fascinating.
The facial reconstruction was wonderful.
The actual face brought it all very much home.
He's a very human face and why did they do to him what they did?
The possibility remains that the other skeletons found with this man
also met the same tragic end.
We've added a dimension to this that we never anticipated we would.
And it's a first for me. I've never been involved in something
that has involved this sort of a ritual, if you like.
It does still make me uncomfortable, I really don't like the words,
but at the end of the day, the bones have the evidence
and the evidence speaks for itself.
The human remains presented to the team were not a recent discovery,
but it took modern forensics to bring back to life
a tragic story that's 2,000 years old.
Next time... The team's biggest challenge yet.
100 skeletons found in York. The trail provides a new perspective
on the English Civil War...
In the last battle between Christ and the forces of Anti-Christ...
..through one man's extraordinary battle to survive.
-That is outrageous.
-If I take it off at the shoulder, you will die.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Professor Sue Black and her team use forensic science to shed light on the past.
For decades experts have remained baffled by a jumble of human bones discovered in a unique series of caves on the North York Moors, known as the Windypits. One discovery in particular stands out - a tangle of bones that might belong to a family from two thousand years ago.
The trail to uncover answers about what happened to these people leads to a dark world of ritual sacrifice and right back to the limits of British recorded history.