Archaeologists Reconstruct Face of Medieval Man Who Died 700 Years Ago

Known only as Context 958, researchers from both the University of Cambridge and the University of Dundee pieced together his facial features by analysing his bones and teeth.

"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", explained John Robb, professor at the Division of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge in a Cambridge press release. The facial reconstruction carried out by a team from the University of Cambridge offers unique insight into the lives of the poor living around that time whose stories are typically forgotten, never to be remembered.

The bodies, which mostly date from a period spanning the 13th to 15th centuries, are burials from the Hospital of St John the Evangelist which stood opposite the graveyard until 1511, and from which the College takes its name. We can't be completely certain that this is exactly what Context 958 looked like.

The center of the collaborative project between Cambridge and Dundee was a rare specimen because he was actually from the lower class. Context 958, unlike most of the corpses from his time, was a working-class 40-year-old commoner.

While the body was buried in a cemetery for the infirm and poor, the chemistry of the bones suggests that the man had the diet of a wealthy person, full of meat and fish. But at the very least, it's bringing his remains back to life. Researchers surmised that Context 958 did not have a pleasant and comfortable life. This suggest his job - whatever it was - may have given him access to more "expensive", fresh foods.

By examining his skull, researchers found evidence of a blunt-force trauma on the back of the man's head, but this likely isn't what killed him, as it had healed over before his death.

Dr Sarah Inskip examines the skull of Context 958.

One big source of mystery remains about the man - he was buried facing down rather than up, an unusual thing to find amongst the graves. Context 958 was buried face down, a weird practice for burials in medieval times.

All of these findings are speculative.

Scientists think the 700-year-old man must not have had a family, to have ended up at St. John's.

"Most historical records are about well-off people and especially their financial and legal transactions-the less money and property you had, the less likely anybody was to ever write down anything about you", said Robb.

He added: "We are interested in him and in people like him as they represent a sector of the medieval population which is quite hard to learn about - ordinary poor people".

  • Joanne Flowers