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Face of Roman Britain’s Only Known Crucifixion Victim Revealed

Face of Roman Britain’s Crucifixion Victim
Joe Mullins, a forensic scientist at George Mason University in Virginia, revealed the face of Roman Britain’s only known crucifixion victim. Credit: George Mason University

Only one crucified person has been identified in Roman Britain. The man’s skeleton was discovered in Cambridgeshire during a dig in 2017. In a recent BBC Four documentary titled The Cambridgeshire Crucifixion, researchers revealed a facial reconstruction of how he may have appeared two thousand years ago.

Joe Mullins, a forensic scientist at George Mason University in Virginia, revealed in the documentary, “I am staring at a face from thousands of years ago, and staring at this face is something I will never forget.”

Joe Mullins typically collaborates with law enforcement to reconstruct the faces of current crime victims, as stated by George Mason University. Speaking to BBC News’ Katy Prickett, he mentioned that the ancient victim has the “most interesting skull” he has encountered in his entire career.

Roman settlement in the village of Fenstanton

The skeleton was discovered at a Roman settlement in the village of Fenstanton of Cambridgeshire. There, five burial grounds dating back to the third and fourth centuries C.E were discovered.

While forty adults and five children were discovered buried there, one man’s remains were particularly notable. A long nail was observed stuck through his heel, and his legs displayed signs of infection or inflammation, possibly due to being bound and shackled.

During the Roman Empire, crucifixion served as a “cruel, ancient method of slow punishment” for both criminals and many slaves who faced this fate for minor offenses, as described by Jane Dalton in The Independent.

Those subjected to crucifixion were hung from wooden crosses, with their limbs either tied with rope or nailed to the structure. Constantine I abolished this punishment in the fourth century, either as a tribute to Christ or an acknowledgment of its inhumanity.

Until now, traces of Roman crucifixion were exclusively discovered in Israel, according to Corinne Duhig, an osteologist at Cambridge University.

The victim died between 130 and 360 C.E.

Following the find, researchers have been carrying out extra investigations to uncover more details about the victim. Radiocarbon dating reveals he passed away between 130 and 360 C.E., estimating his age to be in his mid-30s.

The circumstances surrounding his violent death remain unclear, but signs point to a regular burial. DNA testing indicates he likely had brown hair and brown eyes.

Joe Mullins’ facial reconstruction portrays a bearded man with dark, sunken eyes. Corinne Duhig explains to BBC News that this visual representation helps humanize someone who lived in a time very different from our own.

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