"We definitely didn't expect to find any skeletons": Medieval male "suffered greatly" with two broken legs, arthritis and bone infection

By Ben Miller | 18 December 2015

An unfortunate medieval man suffered broken legs, osteo-arthritis and osteomyelitis, say archaeologists surprised at skeletal discoveries

A photo of a series of small pipes found during an archaeological excavation at a castle
Two skeletons were uncovered at Halton Castle, in Runcorn, in July© Norton Priory Museum Trust
A man found as one of a pair of medieval skeletons at the 11th century Halton Castle in Runcorn was experiencing agonising pain from broken legs, say archaeologists analysing the results of tests carried out on finds made during the summer.

The broken bones caused the man to suffer a strand of osteo-arthritis similar to the affliction many people suffer today, according to experts who discovered animal bones, pottery, clay pipes, musket balls, glass and coins near the Augustinian Norton Priory.

Sarah Cattell, the lead archaeologist on the excavation from the University of Salford Applied Archaeology Unit, also found a medieval jeton denomination which could originate from Germany.

“We now know that the male individual suffered greatly in his life as a result of substantial breaks to both his lower legs,” says Claire Broadhurst, of the Priory Museum and Gardens.

“It caused further distress by bringing on both osteo-arthritis and osteomyelitis – an infection of the bone, causing a rather unpleasant effect on the tissue surrounding it.

“Sarah has identified parts of the site that now raise further questions, such as the large post-holes that could hint to earlier structures, if not multiple phases of medieval settlement.

"We definitely didn’t expect to find any skeletons. Our experts are at a loss to explain why two burials would be found in this context at the moment.

“The confirmed dates of the skeletons will hopefully be obtained sometime over the next few months – at which time we will know a new, rather important bit of information about the Halton Castle skeletons. Hopefully they will shed more light on the various theories.

“The natural bedrock revealed archaeological features, including a trio of large post-holes and a drainage channel. There was also large sandstone debris, possibly from a collapsed wall."

Two postgraduate students from Liverpool John Moores University, Carla Burrell and Eleanor Dove, carried out the analysis. Around 100 people took part in the dig from July onwards, with hundreds of visitors and schoolchildren taking part in excavations and special events.

A new museum will open at the priory in August 2016.

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Three great castles to see

Castle Fraser, Grampian
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This castle was developed as a fortress by Royal hands in the Middle Ages and restored as a Victorian family home.The River Nedern winds its way through the park and the wildlife pond is home to a variety of wildfowl.
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