The skeleton of an unknown man has been discovered in Northamptonshire, England, and carries along a series of new details about the ritual burials in the Roman era. The bones belong to a man of the III or IV century, buried with a flat stone in his mouth and his face turned upside down, staring at the ground. The ritual took place in Stanwick, near the Nene river, and was discover in 1991 but only in 2017 the team of archeologists started studying the site, containing other 34 tombs.
Simon Mays, biologist specialised in the study of human skeletons said to the Guardian newspaper that it was a sensational find because it was unique:
“This isn’t something that’s been identified so far in the archaeological records. So it’s identifying a new practice … The fact that he’s buried face down in the grave is consistent with somebody whose behaviour marked them out as odd or threatening within a community”.
The theories considered by the experts are several. The man could have had mental problems, so they would have cut his tongue as a form of punishment for his issues. Mays contextualises with references to other nations:
“There are Germanic law codes which talk about cutting people’s tongues out because they spread malicious accusations against other people. We’re looking into it at the moment, but I don’t know whether there are any Roman laws to that effect […]”.
On the matter about why the archeologists hypothesised that the tongue was amputated, Mays said:
“What gave us this idea is that there are other burials from Roman Britain where missing body parts in the grave are replaced by objects at the appropriate anatomical location[…]. The great majority are decapitations, where you’ve got a stone or a pot placed where the head should be. We thought that, because of this, perhaps a stone could replace the tongue because it’s in the front part of the mouth where the tongue ought to be”.
To confirm such a theory there are some traces in the bones:
“If you cut somebody’s tongue out, the mouth is full of bacteria and so you’re likely to get an infection. We did indeed find evidence of infection on the bones, so that seems to support the idea.The whole idea of replacing a severed body part with an object is interesting in itself. It could be an attempt to complete an incomplete body. Or it could be an attempt to replace part of a body with something obviously inanimate, like a stone or a pot, to prevent the corpse from being complete”.
The individuals buried face down have been infrequently found in the burial sites of the late Roman era up until the beginning of the Saxon period. Some archeologists believe that the method was implemented because considered as a threat for their community. Mays affirms:
“It’s a way of stopping the corpse from rising from its grave and menacing the living”
Source: The Guardian