EXCLUSIVE: Mystery skeleton unearthed in Lewes dates from Norman Invasion

The skull from Skeleton 180.
The skull from Skeleton 180.

The skeleton of a violently killed man sent for analysis to the University of York to establish whether or not he died at the Battle of Lewes has been found to be even more remarkable.

The individual, who was discovered as part of the excavation of a medieval hospital in Lewes 20 years ago, has been found to date from the time of the Norman Conquest.

Battlefield expert Tim Sutherland, from the University of York, said: “The skeleton is apparently unique in that it appears to be the only individual ever recorded which could be related to the Norman invasion.”

Internationally-renowned medieval historian Professor David Carpenter, who was told the news on Monday when he visited Lewes Castle to deliver a lecture, described the discovery as “absolutely wonderful” and “amazing”.

Although further research is needed, the discovery could prompt a whole new re-evaluation of what happened in Lewes and elsewhere in Britain in the aftermath of the Norman invasion.

The findings are based on radiocarbon dating carried out at the University of Edinburgh which show that the skeleton dated to 1063 (± 28 years), and was therefore likely to have been involved in the battles associated with the Norman invasion in 1066.

What had been clearly fatal to the individual were six sword injuries inflicted on the back of his skull. Osteoarchaeologist Malin Holst from the University of York, who was commissioned by Sussex Archaeological Society to examine the skeleton, said: “The first injury was probably a cut to the right side of the ear and upper jaw. This was then followed by a series of sword cuts, all delivered from the left hand side behind the victim, in a downward and horizontal motion.”

However she has discovered much more about him which helps build up a picture of this individual. “He ate a diet particularly rich in marine fish,” said Malin, “and was at least 45 years old but may have been older. He had some spinal abnormalities and suffered from chronic infection of the sinuses.

“He showed age-related wear and tear of the joints of his spine, shoulders and left wrist, which might have been uncomfortable. He had lost a few teeth during life, possibly as a result of receding gums. He had two small tumours on his skull.”

Although he was violently killed, he had sustained some other kind of head injury during life, anything up to two years previously. “He had sustained an injury to the left temple which caused a blood clot to form. It was well-healed at the time of his death.”