York “Gladiators” On Display

The BBC is on the story:

The 1,800-year-old human remains were exhumed in the city over the past decade and will be displayed in an empty shop throughout the summer.

Archaeologists say the discovery suggested the site was only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery in the world.

The exhibition will feature the skeletons and objects which were unearthed alongside them.

Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust, said the exhibition features six of the 80 skeletons they unearthed on Driffield Terrace in York.

“People will be able to see all the background to the excavations we carried out and what they can tell us about Roman life and death in York,” he said.

Bite mark

The theory the men might have been gladiators is a popular one but Mr Hunter-Mann admitted they were still not certain.

He said: “We are still a long way from being absolutely sure. One argument supporting the idea they were gladiators is these burials were mostly of adult males which is of course unusual.”

The most persuasive argument for the gladiator theory is a large carnivore bite mark, made by a lion, tiger or bear, an injury which Mr Hunter-Mann said was “unique”.

Bite marks made by a carnivore on one bone is one argument the men might have been gladiators

The skeletons also showed evidence they had experienced a great deal of brutality during their lives.

Other theories archaeologists are examining include suggestions the site might have been a cemetery for specialist soldiers or a place of execution.

Sarah Maltby, director of attractions at York Archaeological Trust, said: “I hope they are gladiators because it is such a great story and leads us on to other questions, such as where the arena they fought in might have been.”

She added: “We want everyone to really enjoy this exhibition, to learn something and to go way and think about it and contribute their own ideas to the debate about who these men might have been.”

Kudos to the organizers and/or the BBC, who clearly are trying to scale back the sensationalism which accompanied the original announcement of this discovery. Here is our previous coverage/criticism from last summer:

Again, lots of ‘running away’ wounds lead me to think of execution in an arena situation …

UPDATE (a few hours later): after a conversation with Dorothy King and Sarah Bond on Twitter, it is clear that some questions I had in our previous coverage do refer to this same site, so here are a couple more links to follow the progress of the dig and the development of the theory of what it represents:

… and from February, 2005, see also:

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