Medieval skeletons found in York could have been executed criminals or Lancastrian soldiers

By Ben Miller | 27 February 2015

Skeletons hastily buried in non-traditional formation after hanging at gallows, say archaeologists in York

A photo of an archaeological excavation
© York Archaeological Trust
The skeletons of 12 young males found on a York site where medieval criminals were executed could have belonged to convicts or soldiers, say archaeologists who plan to exhibit one of the bodies at a Richard III centre next month.

Buried in an unusual formation beneath Tadcaster Road – known locally as the Knavesmith – the bodies were exhumed and radiocarbon dated to the 15th century as part of a £7 million project to replace thousands of kilometres of subterranean electricity cable.

“The Knavesmire was the site of York’s Tyburn, where convicted criminals were executed right up until 1802,” says Ruth Whyte, the osteo-archaeologist for York Archaeological Trust, whose experts believe the men would have been aged between 25 and 40.

A photo of an archaeological excavation
© York Archaeological Trust
“We knew this was a fascinating find as, unlike 15th century Christian burial practice, the skeletons were all together and weren’t facing east-west.

“Were these individuals criminals or could they have been Lancastrian soldiers? They may have been captured in battle and brought to York for execution, possibly in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses, and their remains hastily buried near the gallows.”

Two of the skeletons carried “significant” bone fractures, suggesting military fighting. The trust will care for the bones, which could form part of the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of an archaeological excavation
© York Archaeological Trust
A photo of a skeleton
© York Archaeological Trust
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If they were Lancastrian soldiers captured after the battle and brought to York, then they must have been of some impotence. It appears most were executed at towton after the rout. These lads found here could have been commanders or of some senior standing to have been brought to York. Guess we'll never know... RIP.
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