Digging up bones -- Archeologists discover human remains
By Karen Abeyasekere, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 19, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- As the archeological team from Suffolk County Council was in the middle of a routine dig in the RAF Mildenhall housing area in Beck Row March 12, they knew they'd stumbled across an interesting find when a shovel hit something solid.
"Something solid" turned out to be the skull of a human skeleton -- thought to be almost 2,000 years old.
After just more than a day spent carefully digging out the area using nothing but small trowels and brushes, a complete skeleton was revealed.
"We dug out the trench, about (70 inches) by (6.5 feet), and found the skeleton," said John Sims, 24, who discovered the find. Mr. Sims has been working for Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service for just a month and a half.
This is his first significant find.
The archaeology team has been working at the site -- a planned development for eight new houses -- for two-and-a-half weeks, and plan to stay for at least another two weeks. They were digging along the area of an old road that had been dug up, along sections that were originally ditches.
Five years ago, a large site excavation nearby found good evidence of late Iron Age and Roman findings, and a large timber-framed building, thought to be a granary, was unearthed.
"We put in test trenches in December and found evidence that there were archaeological finds here," said John Craven, SCC archaeology service. "We dug sample sections across ditches to see what might be there, usually pottery and animal bones -- in this case, we also found human remains.
"We just happened to dig in the right place," he added.
The skeleton was found about 20 inches under the ground where the road used to be. The hard core stopped about 8 to 12 inches above the skeleton, according to Mr. Craven.
The archeological part of the dig begins after the first 12 to 20 inches depth of ground and topsoil is removed by a mechanical digger.
"When we get to natural ground, deeper down than where it would have been ploughed (years ago, when the area was still agricultural land), we start clearing the area by hand," said Mr. Craven. "As a rule of thumb, we dig out about 10 percent of the ditches as a sample; we can tell from the (color of the) surface which areas need to be investigated."
The skeleton hasn't yet been identified as male or female, and it seems it wasn't in a grave.
"There's no sign of a hole being deliberately dug," said the archaeologist. "The body isn't laid out straight, like you'd expect if this was a proper grave. It seems more like it's been casually thrown in, instead."
So, did the victim die in suspicious circumstances? The mystery will remain unsolved for a while yet. The skeleton has now been removed from the site and has been taken to the SCC offices, where it will be thoroughly examined by an archaeological specialist.