On the 10th July 1834 William Beswick dug a ditch inside his property in Gristhorpe, North Yorkshire, in England. What he found out was something extremely unusual: the man unearthed an oak-shaped coffin with something special inside of it.

The skeleton of a man from the Bronze Age, known today as the Gristhorpe Man

When Beswick opened up that treasure chest there were also the members of the  Scarborough Philosophical Society, as in doctors and other educated people from the organisation. They observed immediately that the skeletal remains of the Gristhorpe man were fragile so there was an attempt to spare them. They thought about filling up a cauldron with copper and animal glue and in there they boiled the bones for 8 hours. Thanks to this operation the skeleton of the man is complete up until this day, but sadly, the process has also prevented any study on the DNA.

Below: picture by Emőke Dénes shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

The Gristhorpe man, his coffin and funeral goods were donated to the Scarborough Philosophical Society and exhibited at the Rotunda Museum of Scarborough. A monograph of the discover was written by William Crawford Williamson, 17 years old son of the first guard of the museum John Williamson. The work of the guy included drawings of the skull and the funeral objects as well as the details on the method of conservation adopted and the dimension of the coffin.

Modern discoveries about the Gristhorpe Man

From the Age, much has been found out about the Gristhorpe Man. The peculiar feature of this ancient inhabitant of England was his height and his advanced life for the time. The man was in fact 182 cm (5′ 11″), a giant for that time. The height allows an understanding that both the food was supposed to be of great quality and his skeleton belonged to a man of a high rank, maybe a tribal leader who was also a warrior, considering the many wounds healed which left traces on his bones.

Below: picture by Ben Sutherland shared via Flickr – licence Creative Commons

The hypothesis does not come just from the height of the skeleton, but also from his funeral goods. The man at the time of his death was wrapped around a leather cape, and some of those fragments survived up until the modern discovery; he was furthermore buried with a dagger, flint tools, a straw basket with food and a recipient that must have contained some milk in it.

Below: picture by Roy shared via Flickr – licence Creative Commons

Despite the process of conservation of the skeleton has prevented the DNA analysis, his teeth allowed the researchers to date the period of death, occurred around 4,000 years ago.

Of all his collection of objects, the dagger is the richest one in terms of clues and it tells much about the British islands of the time. The weapon was forged in bronze and had a pommel made out of wheel’s bone. The bronze, alloy of copper and tin, was made with copper coming from South-West Ireland, while the tin from South- West England.

Below: picture by Emőke Dénes shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Doctor Alan Ogden, osteologist from Bradford University, had in 2010 completed the reconstruction of the face of Gristhorpe man, making it possible to “talk” through a digital software. A possible cause of disability, if not the very one who led to his death, was discovered during the CAT at the St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford. The researchers discovered that the man was developing a brain cancer, growing on his left side of the cranium, which could have led to a collapse and maybe epileptic seizures.

4,000 years ago this enormous warrior from the North of England would die and be buried, with all the honours, inside a oak-shaped coffin. His story would have not ended with his death though, and his remains have told us so much about his life and history of England in the early years of the Bronze Age.

Below: an amateur video showing the skeleton at the Rotunda Museum of Scarborough

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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