Skeletons Mark Historic Gladiator Graveyard

York remains show evidence of lion bites

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 7, 2010 3:39 AM CDT

(Newser) – Scientists have determined that a puzzling collection of skeletons discovered in England is the best-preserved Roman gladiator graveyard ever found. Lion bites, headless corpses and hammer marks on skulls are clues that the 80 skeletons found over a decade were gladiators buried in York, which was a Roman provincial capital some 1800 years ago. The men were young and well developed with notably stronger muscles in the right arm, a condition in slaves trained from childhood to fight in the arena, notes the Guardian.

"Anthropologically speaking, the material is particularly significant because it includes such a broad spectrum of healed and unhealed injuries associated with violence," said a forensic anthropologist who has tested some of the remains. "Nothing like the bite marks has ever been identified before on a Roman skeleton." Some of the men were apparently buried with gifts for the afterlife as the best gladiators were honored much like today's top athletes.

Rome - Roman Coliseum Arch
Rome - Roman Coliseum Arch   (©David Paul Ohmer)
The skeletons found in York show signs that the men once fought for their lives as gladiators.
The skeletons found in York show signs that the men once fought for their lives as gladiators.   (?jean-louis zimmermann)
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We don't have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world. It is a unique Roman burial assemblage. - Forensic anthropologist Michael Wysocki

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