Digging for victory: The top ten archaeology discoveries for April 2014

By Ben Miller Published: 03 May 2014

From dinosaurs to tombs, April was a remarkable month in Archaeology. Here are ten of the objects unearthed

A toe bone of a sauropod dinosaur

A photo of two people holding an ancient rock
© Doncaster Museum Service
Back in 1964, when museum loans where less formal, this dinosaur toe – surely as rare as stuffed reptile excrement – went from Scarborough’s Rotunda to Doncaster. An assistant curator of palaeontology spotted it, and it was sent back to the North Yorkshire town where it was originally found the best part of 200 years ago.

The skull of a Black Death victim

A photo of an ancient brown skeleton with teeth still visible
© Crossrail / Robbie Whitfield
Twenty-five burials might sound plenty, but it’s skimming the surface on terrain where 200 bodies a day are thought to have been left in emergency grounds created for the plague of the mid-14th century. “This was some kind of pre-meditated preparation,” said Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver.

A spindle whorl from a lost village in Medieval Scotland

A photo of a circular dark brown archaeological artefact against a black background
© Guard Archaeology Ltd
We could mention the skull of a hornless sheep, the molars of horses or pots from Germany and the Netherlands identified in the aftermath of this two-year dig on the outskirts of Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders, where battle raged during the mid-17th century. This whorl suggests industry, but reused walls and evidence of ransacking shows the multiple uses the grounds would have seen over the centuries.

A heavily pregnant woman and foetus in tomb

A photo of a small skeleton made up of dark brown bones within a pit
© Courtesy All Saints Church
A sad find in York, at All Saints church, where a tomb with grave markings from the early 13th century carried the tiny bones of a foetus near its mother. Three men were found crammed into the opposite part of the burial chamber. Excavations are continuing until October.

Paw prints left by dogs on tiles 2,000 years ago

A photo of a terracotta-coloured slab of tile with the prints of dog paws within it
© Adam Slater
Leicester’s archaeology is famous: the largest hoard of Iron Age coins ever found in Britain, the Hallaton Treasure, was left by the Corieltauvi tribe, who once worked on this site at Blackfriars. Its precise use is thought to have been a Roman coin mint, and sheep and goats also left their footsteps on the resident tiles.

Toy hand axes used to train Neanderthal kids

A photo of two ancient light brown hand axes
© Mark White
Found in Kent, where children would use them around 250,000 years ago, these knobbly axes were part of a wider study suggesting Neanderthals were caring types with good parenting skills. The report also examined caves in northern Spain and France, where children once battered patches of land with their miniature axes.

The Racton Man who could have been a King or priest

A photo of the skeleton of a man in a dark brown mud and stone pit
© Courtesy The Novium
A telltale dagger, dating from the phase between the Copper and Early Bronze ages, was clutched by the skeleton of Racton Man, buried in Sussex in 1989. “We are calling him the Mystery Man,” said Amy Roberts, of Chichester’s Novium museum, which is organising extensive texts on the fellow.

A fractured elbow of a body hanging from a cliff

A photo of a small green archaeological fragment against a black background
© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
Archaeologists dangled from harnesses and deployed a cherry picker to retrieve these bones from a rapidly-eroding cliff at Sannox, on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. There seems little doubt they were burnt in a hot cremation pyre, and evidence of a benign tumour was also discovered.

Flint tools from 14,000 years ago

A photo of various flint tools assembled in rows against a red background
© Alan Saville
North-west Germany, southern Denmark and north-west Holland were the surprising connections to emerge from the discovery of these artefacts, wielded by hunters chasing wild horses during the late glacial period. Howburn, near Biggar, could have witnessed the first human occupants in Scotland, roaming 14,000 years ago.

A mansion built to please a politician's wife 300 years ago

A photo of a brown mud pit of rocks and stones within a countryside archaeological dig
© Bletchley Park Trust
“The house was described as 'something of an extravagance' by the Reverend Cole, who lived in the parsonage of St Mary's Church next door,” explained Victoria Worpole, of Bletchley Park. Usually known as a codebreaking centre, an archaeological dig revealed the potential remains of a mansion built by Browne Ellis, a House of Commons figure who spent £6,000 “to please his wife”. Now that’s an expense.

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