Archaeologists Reconstruct The Face Of A Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago

While most historical records account for how the rich and powerful lived, one project at Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology and the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification has focused on how the lower class lived.

The Wellcome Trust-funded project, called “After the plague: health and history in medieval Cambridge,” is an effort to catalog and analyze the burials in as much depth and detail as possible.

The essence of the project is about bringing old remains back to life to better understand them through various means — even facial reconstruction.

(Image credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

It begins with a 13th-century man dubbed “Contest 958” whose face has been reconstructed by researchers. He is one of 400 burials excavated beneath the Old Divinity School of St. John’s College in Cambridge, England between 2010 and 2012.

They chose this location for its medieval era reputation as being home to the Hospital of St. John, an institution focused on helping the poor and sick in the community. Patients were also buried right behind this very hospital.

(Image credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

Here’s what researchers discovered about Contest 958:

“He was just slightly over 40 years old when he died. His skeleton showed signs of considerable wear-and-tear, so he likely lived a tough and hard working life. His tooth enamel stopped growing during two occasions in his youth, suggesting he likely lived through bouts of famine or sickness when he was young.”

“The archaeologists found traces of blunt force trauma inflicted to the back of his head, which healed over before he died. The researchers aren’t sure what he did for a living, but they think he was a working-class person who specialized in some kind of trade.”

(Image credit: Laure Bonner)

“Context 958 was probably an inmate of the Hospital of St John, a charitable institution which provided food and a place to live for a dozen or so indigent townspeople—some of whom were probably ill, some of whom were aged or poor and couldn’t live alone,” noted John Robb, a professor of Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

(Image credit: C. Cessford)

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