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Historic Ipswich skeleton finally identified

PUBLISHED: 10:37 05 May 2010

The African skeleton, pictured, was discovered during an excavation. in Ipswich.

The African skeleton, pictured, was discovered during an excavation. in Ipswich.


A SKELETON excavated in the ruins of an Ipswich friary more than ten years ago has been identified as a medieval African man.

The finding, which has been documented in a BBC Two history series, gives insight into the migration of Africans to England in the 13th Century.

Until now there have been virtually no records of Africans in England between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 16th Century.

In 1992, 2002, and 2006 Suffolk County Council’s archaeology team excavated a development site on the corner of Wolsey Street and Franciscan Way – previously known as Greyfriars.

During the digs a total of 150 individuals were discovered, nine of whom were declared to be of sub-Saharan African origin.

Keith Wade, archaeological service manager for Suffolk County Council, said: “We dug at the site on numerous occasions and found bodies in all three excavations.

“Most of the Friary buildings were based in the town centre and the cemetery would have been outside the Friary building. When we began excavating it was clearly an unusual cemetery. Of the 150 bodies, nine where declared [to be] of sub-Saharan African origin.

“There have been African skeletons dating earlier found in the UK but the fact that there were nine bodies on the site meant that an explanation was required.”

Mr Wade said on the site was evidence of Down’s Syndrome, TB, people with fractures and one with manacles.

The history of the skeleton, set to be documented in History Cold Case on Thursday at 9pm, was depicted by Professor Sue Black OBE, who used 21st Century forensic science techniques to build a picture of the man’s life and death.

Using carbon dating, bone isotopic analysis, facial reconstruction and historical detective work, to group were able to develop an understanding of how the man came to die in Ipswich. They discovered the man was born a Muslim in 13th-Century Tunisia, who was taken to England during the ninth Crusade.

It is thought he converted to Christianity before living in England for over ten years, where he succumbed to the pain of a spinal abscess and was possibly treated to his death by a group of nurses at Friars – before a burial in the Friary itself.

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