These men might have suffered an even stranger fate than death in the amphitheatre. The Roman military did decapitate their enemies, and displayed the heads.
The killing of people and the display of their body parts for ritual purposes appear to have taken place in Roman Britain, as human remains have been found in wells, in military forts and outside temples. The Roman military were also strongly associated with headhunting practices, and this practice was depicted on public architecture in Rome, for example on Trajan’s column. The decapitation and display of enemy heads was associated with military valour, and trophy heads were depicted on Roman soldiers' tombstones. Many of the military personnel serving in Londininum would have been stationed at Britannia’s frontiers in the north of Britain, and engaged in sporadic warfare with Britons in Scotland and Northumberland. These battles would have provided them with the opportunity to engage in trophy headhunting. If they were later stationed to the fort in Londinium, they may have carried their grisly trophies south with them.
The fort and amphitheatre give us these two plausible options: trophy heads displayed by the military, or people killed in the arena – gladiators or criminals.
More recent research has given us more clues to who the people buried in Walbrook were. Stable isotope analysis of two of the males found that they were likely to have spent their childhoods in Britain, but a continental origin for one of them cannot be ruled out. We also carried out ancient DNA analysis on one of these males, which revealed that he had brown eyes and dark black hair, and his maternal ancestry matched groups across Europe, North Africa, the Near East and the Caucasus. The analysis discovered that he had peridontal disease, which matched the bioarchaeological evidence for poor dental health.