"Presumably someone just panicked": Hertford Museum to rebury bones retrieved by police

By Ben Miller | 01 September 2015

Curators in Hertford given bones by police after discovery in plastic bag under library road

A photo of a set of bones found by police near Hertford Library and given to Hertford Museum
© Hertfordshire Constabulary
The beginning of August’s final week was an enlightening one for curators at Hertford Museum.

While national newspapers took an interest in the police discovery of a set of bones struck during National Grid work outside the local library, the holders of the town’s main historical displays awaited a link to the churchyard of St Mary the Less, which stood in the middle of the modern road where the disturbed burial lay and was first referred to in 1218.

A photo of a set of bones found by police near Hertford Library and given to Hertford Museum
© Hertfordshire Constabulary
“They found the bones on Friday and, like everyone else, we saw on Twitter the police mentioning that they’d found them,” says Assistant Curator Sarah Keeling.

“We in the office all said to each other ‘I wonder if that’s going to be historical stuff’, because we knew that the churchyard was there.

A photo of a set of bones under rubble found by police near Hertford Library and given to Hertford Museum
© Hertfordshire Constabulary
“At that point they were still saying they didn’t know how old it was, so we waited to hear. On Monday I got a phone call from the police saying they’d identified the bones and had an archaeologist in and it was definitely something historic, not a modern case.

“The Community Support Officers brought them round for us in the plastic bag inside one of their own evidence bags. We were also brought a piece that had been taken off for date testing.

A photo of a set of bones under rubble found by police near Hertford Library and given to Hertford Museum
© Hertfordshire Constabulary
“They must have used their own lab. We weren’t that surprised but it was an interesting day to have them turn up on the doorstep.”

These human bones were perhaps once buried at the also-demolished St Nicholas church, which St Mary’s united with more than 500 years ago.

A photo of the old site of the Hertford Museum showing a large sculpture by a building
The old library building in Hertford, pictured during the 1980s© Hertford Museum
“When you look at the bones you can see that they’ve been in the ground for a long time,” says Keeling. “It’s not a complete skeleton or anything like that, it’s just various bits.

“A couple of years ago we had a similar thing when someone turned up with a box of bones. It catches people’s attention – it’s been on the front page of the local paper here, of course, and we were very amused to discover we’d made the Daily Mail Online, which was slightly surprising.

“They talked about them being near the castle a lot – which they were, because it’s a relatively small town – but that’s just a speculative angle to make it sound more exciting.”

The museum lacks the funding and resources to offer any firm answers, with the bones likely to be reburied in line with official guidelines.

“There isn’t a lot we can do with them, which is a pity,” concedes Keeling. “But we’re fairly certain of the origins of anything that comes out of that area.

“I think everyone’s just sort of surprised at whoever it was who dug it up before and just slung it in a plastic bag and buried it again.

“It seems like a really odd thing to do, but presumably they just panicked. It’s a plastic bag so it can’t be a huge amount of time since it was reburied.

“But it does show how long there have been people living in the centre of Hertford. There are very few parts of Hertford that you can dig in and not hit something.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums to discover history in

Tolson Museum, Huddersfield
Huddersfield's first mace, mayoral robes, commemorative items, items from the Great Exhibition of 1851, wage cups for mill workers, violins and more.

Museum of London
Discover the story of the Thames Valley and the people who lived there from 450,000 BC to the coming of the Romans in AD 50 in the London Before London gallery.

Weston Park, Sheffield
Current exhibition Life on the Edge: Ice Age Frontier explores the nearby Creswell Crags - once Europe’s northern frontier of settlement. During this period of great climate change between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, a series of caves at Creswell provided occasional shelter to nomadic hunters in search of food. Until September 20 2015.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.
    image
    advertisement