Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK


Museum skeleton comes out of the cupboard

The travelling tradesman was crushed by a stone at Avebury

One of Britain's best known archaeological finds, thought destroyed in the Second World War, has been rediscovered tucked away in a museum storeroom.

The barber-surgeon skeleton dates from more than 500 years ago and was found during an excavation of the giant stone circle at Avebury, Wiltshire, in 1938.

Former Avebury Museum curator Michael Pitts: "It was in a room with 100 skeletons"
The skull and upper torso of the tradesman, found with his medical probe, scissors and 13th century coins, provide a link to a crucial moment in the Neolithic monument's history, as it faced destruction in the Middle Ages.

He was killed by a falling stone, as the circle was being demolished.

The rediscovery was made in a storeroom in London's Natural History Museum by Michael Pitts, the former curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "It is very exciting, it is a most extraordinary thing.

"I was actually looking for something different, a skeleton from Stonehenge. But when I found it, I discovered it was stored with 100 other skeletons, one of which was the barber-surgeon."

Direct hits

The skeleton was sent for analysis to the Royal College of Surgeons, shortly after it was found.

But the college sustained three direct hits during a wartime bombing raid in 1941 and archaeologists feared the skeleton had been destroyed.

But research by Mr Pitts revealed that the college actually transferred some of its materials to a safe underground store in the Natural History Museum, and he was able to locate it, still undamaged.

He added: "During the 1938 excavations it was discovered that some of the stones had been buried in the Middle Ages, and some of the stones broken up."

Archaeologists believe this may have been to clear land for farming, but a more favoured theory is that the stones were broken up because the church disapproved of their Pagan associations.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

UK Contents

Northern Ireland

Relevant Stories

15 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Stonehenge face mystery

Internet Links

Avebury Stone Circle guide

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online