Meet the Ancestors
19th century excavated skull images from Rolleston/Greenwell
Contained within 'British barrows: A record of the examinations of sepulchral
mounds in various parts of England' by William Greenwell 1877

I've spent a lot of time looking at earthen barrows either in the field or research via books, maps and the internet, particularly those that occur in the east of the country with an emphasis on those found in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. One of the books that has been a constant companion is 'British barrows: A record of the examinations of sepulchral mounds in various parts of England' written by Rev. William Greenwell and published in 1877 in which he documents his examination of hundreds of barrows, mostly in the north and east of the country. At the end of the book is a section provided by George Rolleston a noted physician and zoologist of the Victorian era who provides a critical examination of some of the skull remains recovered by Greenwell. I had omitted to read much of this section partly because of the technical medical language used in the descriptions and partly because of the Victorian interest in the use of 'craniology' as a tool to promote racial stereotypes that could at best be described today as distasteful. However while flicking through this section I was struck by the images of skull remains, some of which were from round barrows which I had already visited or researched. Here at last were the actual people who were laid to rest beneath these mounds of earth, a face almost put to the text written over 130 years ago. In the first image on this page the caption reads "Skull of a man advanced in years" and I couldn't help but wonder about the life story of this man, in a way these images are a link between standing on a hillside looking at barrow remains and the sometimes dry excavation reports produced by antiquarians and archaeologists. The images have a poignancy and power that reminds us of not only of our own mortality but of the lives that have gone before us - these indeed are the ancestors, the ancients, the human story behind prehistory.
I've added the images from the book 'as is' with no explanatory text, the images speak to me, at least, just as they are - meet the ancestors.


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