It’s not uncommon for archaeologists to discover intriguing human remains, but what this group of experts found in central England was far from the ordinary. In fact, the two skeletons, which rested at an excavated medieval chapel, were puzzling not just because of their location, but because of what they appeared to be doing.
Still, from grand Norman castles to kings buried in car parks, Britain is a real archeological treasure trove. This is largely due to its turbulent history. In fact, before the Normans arrived in 1066 the nation was conquered by Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians.
The presence of all of these people means that archaeological marvels continue to be discovered, and the medieval Chapel of St. Morrell is a case in point. Despite being mentioned in historical documents, no one could ever find it – at least not until John Morrison, a local historian, came along.
“It was a case of piecing evidence together and then getting in geo-physicists to take images of the land from above to locate the spot for our dig,” he told the Leicester Mercury. The location Morrison identified was in the village of Hallaton, Leicestershire.
So in 2010 archaeologists began excavating the site – but only for a fortnight every 12 months. In fact, it wasn’t until 2014 that they finally uncovered the floor, walls and tiles of the long-lost medieval chapel. It was, though, the moment they had all been waiting for.
This incredible find, however, was merely the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, in a cemetery to the north of the chapel, the archaeologists found 11 skeletons that were carbon-dated to the 14th century.
Alongside coins dating back to the 11th to 15th centuries, the human bones were proof of how old the chapel was. What was arguably even more interesting, however, was that male and female skeletons were found buried next to each other, their arms intertwined.
Experts believe the pair were about the same age, but could they have been holding hands at the time of their deaths? It’s probably impossible to say for sure, but these two skeletons, it seems, were most likely romantically involved.
San Francisco’s Department for Anthropology tried to take a step back from the science to explore the bodies’ potential connection. Could the skeletons have been siblings rather than lovers, it speculated? And had they succumbed to the same accident or illness?
The archaeologists on the ground, meanwhile, understandably turned their attentions from the chapel to the skeletons. Speaking to MailOnline later, the University of Leicester’s Vicky Score questioned why the bones had been buried where they were, rather than the “perfectly good church in Hallaton.”
It’s believed that the Chapel of St. Morrell may have been a Christian pilgrimage site. After all, a pilgrim badge, pictured here, containing the word “Morrell” was found during the chapel’s excavation. Perhaps its burial ground was reserved for deceased pilgrims only?
Another theory, though, is that Hallaton’s church simply refused to bury the hand-holding pair. Perhaps they were ne’er-do-wells from overseas or had some feared mystery illness, both of which may have relegated them to an entirely separate burial site.
There is some evidence to support the latter theory too. The remains of another young male at the chapel, for instance, were buried with the legs raised to the chest, which suggests he had suffered from some kind of nasty ailment.
Fortunately for the archaeologists, they were about to uncover another secret. Under the chapel, they found evidence of a Roman building, which indicates that the site is one that’s held significance for not just hundreds of years, but thousands.
The site may, in fact, have once accommodated a Roman temple. Could it be mere coincidence that a medieval chapel was built directly on top of it centuries later? Or was there some kind spiritual link between the two structures?
Not far from the site of the chapel is an Iron Age Shrine where, interestingly, Roman trinkets and coins were also discovered. The locality, then, may have held religious significance throughout the ages – though at present little else is known about just how important it was.
Incidentally, two years before the skeletons were found here another remarkable discovery was made 16 miles away in Leicester itself. Yes, archaeologists from the same university found the remains of King Richard III, who ruled England between 1483 and 1485. He was discovered beneath a parking lot in the city center.
The 32-year-old monarch, the last English king to die in combat, perished fighting the army of Henry Tudor, a rival claimant to the English throne. Henry, having won the Wars of the Roses, took Richard’s place and established the Tudor dynasty, which ruled until 1603.
When Richard’s skeleton was exhumed, it was discovered that he’d sustained multiple injuries, including a fatal one – likely inflicted by a blade – that sliced into his skull. His defeat, and indeed his violent death, were something of a surprise considering that his was the bigger army.
While Richard’s death was as high profile as they come, the passing of the hand-holding couple – whose story remains a mystery – was probably barely noticed by anyone outside of Hallaton. Centuries later, however, the graves of both were discovered, just a couple of years apart, by archaeologists from the same university – and amid much justified excitement.