The darker angels of our nature: a butchered prehistoric human bone assemblage from Charterhouse Warren, Somerset, England
Rick Schulting and colleagues have received a British Academy Small Research Grant for the study of an unusual Early Bronze Age human skeletal assemblage.
Steven Pinker’s 2011 book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ reflects on the decline in violence over the course of human history. The site of Charterhouse Warren in Somerset reveals the darker side. Excavated in the 1970s, and dating at least partly to the Early Bronze Age, ca. 2200 BC, the scattered remains of more than 20 men, women and children were found in a 20m-deep natural shaft. This largely unknown assemblage is striking for the sheer number of cutmarks indicating dismemberment, alongside perimortem fracturing of long bones and injuries to skulls, as well as apparent charring. While evidence for violence is not unknown in British prehistory, nothing on this scale has been found, and the site joins a small number of Continental Neolithic and Bronze Age sites showing extreme violence and postmortem processing of human remains. This project aims to fully document and characterise the extent of the modifications on this assemblage, which has never been fully analysed, to say something about who these victims were, and to understand the site’s place in the wider context of the European Early Bronze Age.
The research will involve a detailed osteological analysis as well as a range of scientific analyses. Louise Loe of Oxford Archaeology is Co-Investigator, and project collaborators include Teresa Fernández-Crespo, Fiona Brock, Christophe Snoeck, Ian Cartwright, Tony Audsley and David Walker. The results of the project will inform a new display on the site at the Wells and Mendip Museum.
Photo by Ian Cartwright