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


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.





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