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Soil blocks, lumbar spine and caltrops

X-raying archaeological items at Canterbury Christ Church University

Possible medieval lumbar vertebrae from an excavation at Canterbury Cathedral. A hyper-dense structure has coalesced to the posterior of the bone. Visual inspection demonstrates metal oxides. Is this clothing or trauma?

Adelina Teocaca (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) attended the x-ray room in Verena Holmes (Canterbury Christ Church University) with Dr Jay Ingate from the archaeology department to image some items. We began by imaging a heavy soil block with possible Late Iron Age or Roman items. Upon investigation, there were several ring-like metal artefacts inside. Moving on, we imaged medieval lumbar vertebrae from the Canterbury Cathedral exavations near to the university. The bones were fused together and had a round, dense blob adhering to the posterior portion. The guys and I wondered if it was the tip of a blade or perhaps a different item within the burial. We imaged an assortment of different items, which can be seen below.

Regarding the lumbar vertebrae, Adelina states:

'The skeleton (SK673) was excavated during the Water Management works undertaken by CAT in 2016. The flat, circular iron object was found adhering to the posterior neural arches of two lumbar vertebrae (L3 and L4), locking them together.

Even after the x-rays, I can’t identify the object. The outline is diffused and it looks too round to be a blade, therefore suggesting it might be a projectile deformed at impact. On the left transverse process and inferior right side of the arch of the 3rd vertebra two hairline fractures were identified, probably caused by the impact force which shifted the body of the vertebra anteriorly. It is clear that the object is embedded in the spine, there are some signs of healing indicating the injury wasn’t fatal.

Unfortunately, the excavation consisted of a fairly shallow trench that cut through the Medieval cemetery positioned in front of the cathedral. This was in use from late 8th century to early 19th Century. The stratigraphy of the ditch is ambiguous and the phasing of the cemetery is rather based on the depth of the graves than a stratigraphic matrix.

If the cathedral will allow me to do more research, the first step will be to radiocarbon a selection of sample so we can accurately date and phase the burial ground.

Because, at the moment, I do not know if the skeleton is Anglo-Saxon, Medieval or Post- Medieval I can’t say with certainty why type of object is or if it is indeed a projectile.

But I shall keep you posted.'


X-rays and photographs all taken by James Elliott.

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