A book detailing the life of one of Scarborough’s oldest residents will be launched at the Rotunda Museum on Firday January 17.
Gristhorpe Man: a life and death in the Bronze Age investigates the life of the famous black skeleton, one of the Rotunda’s most popular exhibits.
In July 1834 an excavation of a barrow at Gristhorpe, near Scarborough, recovered an intact, waterlogged, hollowed-out oak coffin containing a perfectly preserved Bronze Age skeleton.
It had been wrapped in an animal skin and buried with worked flints, a bronze dagger with a whalebone pommel, and a bark vessel apparently containing food residue.
The remarkable preservation of the coffin and its contents was ascribed to the water retaining properties of the boulder clay of Gristhorpe cliff.
The excavation was done under the eyes of members of the Scarborough Philosophical Society, which had founded the Museum in the 1820s, and the skeleton has been on display at the museum ever since, apart from a brief period in the first decade of this century when the refurbishment of the museum provided the opportunity for a scientific re-examination of the burial and grave goods.
Tree-trunk coffin burials are relatively rare, so Gristhorpe Man is believed to have held a special place in society. The scientific analyses of his bones and teeth, combined with examination of the surviving coffin lid, including a unique ‘face’ carved onto one end of it, and radiocarbon and dendrochronological dating reveal fascinating insights into the social position and burial rites of this large and mature man, who probably saw active combat and who suffered from a benign brain tumour that may have seriously altered his personality in his later years.
Gristhorpe Man: a life and death in the Bronze Age is edited by Nigel D Melton, Christopher Knusel and Janet Montgomery, and is published by Oxbow Books, priced at £50. Copies of the book will be available in the Rotunda shop by Saturday.