4,000 year old skeleton was likely a ‘warrior chief’

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A Bronze Age skeleton found buried in West Sussex with one of the earliest bronze daggers in the UK was probably a high-ranking warrior chief who died in combat, experts have said.

4,000 year old skeleton was likely a 'warrior chief'
James Kenny, site excavator and planning archaeologist at Chichester District Council, 
views the skeleton known as Racton Man at the Novium Museum in Chichester, West Sussex 
[Credit: Chichester District Council]

The virtually-complete skeleton dating back more than 4,000 years was found on farmland in the hamlet of Racton, near Chichester, in 1989.

Its background has long been a source of intrigue to historians as the skeleton – nicknamed Racton Man – was found with an extremely rare and valuable dagger.

Technological advances have enabled experts from across the UK to scientifically analyse his teeth, bones and the dagger to help piece together some of the details of who he was.

At the Novium Museum in Chichester, where the skeleton and the dagger is now on display, specialists unravelled the mystery of Racton Man by revealing their findings for the first time.

Site excavator and planning archaeologist, James Kenny, said he was at least 45 years of age at the time of his death and a “big man” who was at least 6ft tall.

But it was the discovery of a dagger alongside him that sets him apart as no ordinary member of society but someone who was probably a tribal leader, he said.

Mr Kenny said: “To start with, the fact that this man had a bronze dagger would have been phenomenally rare then, let alone now.

“This would have been right at the start of the introduction of this type of technology and would have been one of the first bronze daggers in existence in this country.

“There are so few burials back to the early Bronze Age, especially in the Chichester region. It’s also rare to find such a distinctive burial that has been archaeologically excavated in recent times.”

Mr Kenny added: “He was a man of extremely high status buried with an extremely rare dagger and he was almost certainly a warrior chief.”

Dr Stuart Kenny, a Bronze Age specialist who pulled together the research, said the dagger had a rare rivet-studded hilt.

He said: “Its design is distinctively British, but of greater significance is the fact that it dates to the transition from copper to bronze metallurgy.

“This dagger is bronze and so this item would have been incredibly rare at the time. Its colour and keen hard edge would have distinguished it from the more common copper objects in use.

“We don’t understand the social structure of this time, but he would have been a very prominent member of society, someone of great seniority.”

Isotope analysis of Racton Man’s teeth at Durham University suggest he could have been brought up in southern Britain, possibly somewhere west of Sussex.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research centre in Glasgow show he died sometime around 2150BC to 2300BC.

And analysis of his bones suggest he had spinal degeneration, thought to be age-related. He also suffered chronic sinus infection, and an abscess and tooth decay.

Experts also discovered signs of a cut to Racton Man’s right upper arm bone, close to the elbow, and which had not healed.

It suggests that he had his elbow bent above his head to protect it from a blow or strike from a weapon during combat, according to historians.

Source: Press Association [December 15, 2014]

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