Archaeologists find 18th century racehorse with shattered pelvis and skull at Charles II house

By Ben Miller | 23 December 2014

Lone 18th century racehorse could have been humanely killed, say archaeologists in Suffolk

A photo of a horse skeleton lying in a brown mud pit
Archaeologists have found the solitary skeleton of an unknown horse which may be several centuries old© Oxford Archaeology
A skeleton of a horse with a shattered skull and pelvis, thought to have been buried more than 200 years ago when passion for horseracing was burgeoning in Britain, has been discovered at a grand residence built by Charles II in Suffolk.

Examining the teeth and bone structure of the adult horse, veterinary scientists say the skeleton belonged to an 18-year-old animal which died at Palace House, a historic home synonymous with racing during the 17th century. Damage to the pelvis prevented experts from confirming the gender of the horse.

A photo of archaeologists in high-visibility clothing and hard hats working in a brown pit
Palace House was built by Charles II to allow him to be as close as possible to his beloved racehorses© Oxford Archaeology
“The skull was heavily smashed, so we cannot assess the exact cause of death,” says Chris Faine, of the Oxford Archaeology team which will carry out conservation on the skeleton.

“While the date of the burial is uncertain, pottery fragments found underneath it date back to the 1750s.

“It may have been put to sleep humanely, although based on the evidence that we have we can’t be sure.”

Archaeologists believe the “unusual siting” of the remains – in the Rothschild Yard, built by Leopold de Rothschild in 1903 as an extension to the King’s Yard – suggests the horse could have been a particular favourite at the house.

Unsurprisingly, wear and tear to the horse’s joints indicate that it was ridden during its lifetime. The skeleton was found during construction work to turn the complex, which includes a trainer’s house and paddock, into a National Heritage Centre for Horse Racing and Sporting Art, due to open in early 2016 with an enlarged home for the town’s National Horseracing Museum.

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Interesting that a horse from the 1700s was the favourite of someone who died in 1685.
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