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Multidisciplinary analysis of a mummified cranium claimed to be that of a medieval execution victim.

Smith, M. J., Kneller, P., Elliott, D, Young, C, Manley, H. and Osselton, D. M., 2012. Multidisciplinary analysis of a mummified cranium claimed to be that of a medieval execution victim. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 4 (1), 75-89 .

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Smith et all mummified cranium_OnlinePDF.pdf - Accepted Version


DOI: 10.1007/s12520-011-0084-x


This article presents a multidisciplinary analysis of a human skull with preserved soft tissue curated by a small museum in Boscastle, Cornwall, UK. The skull lacks a mandible and is coated in a black tar-like substance. Records left by a previous museum curator (now deceased) claimed the skull to be the head of a medieval execution victim. The skull was purportedly recovered from a London church that was destroyed during the Second World War where it had been kept in a carved oak box. If these details are correct, the skull would appear to have been venerated as a relic. The skull and box have been analysed using a range of techniques including computerised tomography, laser scanning, microscopy, infrared spectroscopy and radiocarbon dating. These analyses demonstrated the skull in fact to be that of an Egyptian mummy dating from the Ptolemaic period. Other instances have been noted of parts of Egyptian mummies being presented as European saintly relics, and the ‘Boscastle skull’ would appear to be an example of such. A wider point illustrated by the work presented here is that sufficient application of modern analytical techniques may reveal considerable information regarding human remains which otherwise have little or no provenance. This point strengthens arguments for the retention of such remains by curating institutions.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Provenance Mummy Relic Computerised tomography Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy FTIR Resin
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:22923
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:25 Nov 2015 16:03
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 13:54


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