The analysis of the human bone has shown many different pathologies. Along with the usual assortment of tooth cavities and osteoarthritis, was one woman whose broken femur was badly set, leaving her left leg at least three inches shorter than her right.
But perhaps the most evocative grave to be excavated was that of a man who had been buried holding a woman, probably his wife, clutched to his chest with the remains of an infant between them. DNA testing sadly failed to prove whether it was a family united in death.
Numerous grave goods were found, including complete pottery and glass vessels and hob-nailed boots. Notable discoveries included an adult male with an iron blade or spear point protruding from his foot and a man buried with the head of an elderly horse carefully placed beneath his knees.
The burials yielded a significant amount of late Roman jet jewellery, hundreds of beautifully cut black jet beads, which were both fashionable and perhaps symbolic.
The British jet-working industry was centred at York close to its major source at Whitby and the material became fashionable in the 3rd and 4th centuries, but in a burial context it has added significance. Its magical and mystical properties were described by Pliny in his Natural Histories and its supposed medicinal uses, described by Galen in the 2nd century AD, included the treatment of gynaecological diseases.
The electrostatic properties of jet kept evil spirits away from the wearer and the placing of jet in the burial was like a personal insurance, designed to protect the deceased in death. Jet pendants depicting Medusa provided a double insurance, being both made of jet and depicting the Gorgon who could turn evil spirits to stone.
Part of this article by Giles Dawkes and Melissa Melikian, AOC Archaeology Group, was published in Archaeology Matters No 18, July 2002