Eastbourne’s Ancestors 2012: The Quest Begins…

The Heritage Lottery Funded Eastbourne Ancestors Project has been running for 2 months now, so I thought it was time for an update!

The Eastbourne Museum Service has gained some fantastic volunteers, some local and others from further afield, to take part in the initial stage; skeletal cleaning. The Eastbourne Museum Service has inherited the skeletal remains from the large Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Eastbourne and they are in very poor condition. Before I can proceed with the analysis stage, the remains have to be cleaned to remove the dried soil/mud from the bones from when they were excavated 15 years ago. Whilst the cleaning is being undertaken, I have been keeping a basic inventory of each individual which can then be expanded upon during the full skeletal analysis stage. Removing this soil/mud has revealed some very interesting pathologies and has helped to shed light on the diet, lifestyle and health of the cemetery population.


The first assemblage to be prepared for analysis is from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery site in Eastbourne. This is the largest collection we have in the store, although I haven’t counted all the individuals, there are over 100 easily. The lab is stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of bodies waiting their turn to be cleaned. About 15 individuals from this site and another 15 or so from another Saxon cemetery in Eastbourne made a trip to Bournemouth University in June, where they are currently being studied by two MSc Osteo/Forensic Arch students for their dissertations. One of the Bournemouth students will be looking at human remains in a museum context and the other will be producing a biological profile.

We have also had an MSc Osteo/Bio-archaeologist from Exeter University spend two weeks studying the large cemetery assemblage, looking at clavicle asymmetry and comparing the measurements to Chimpanzees and Gorillas for sexual dimorphism. Here is her research proposal:

The morphological features of the clavicle reflect its biomechanical function, with the muscle and ligament attachments providing compressive, bending, and torsional forces that act upon the bone and influence the endochondral bone growth. Due to its position in the shoulder girdle, all loads on the upper extremity are transmitted through the clavicle. Because of this, variations in clavicular size, robusticity, shape, and the morphology of muscle and ligament attachments are apparent, reflecting different amounts of mechanical loading that are being transmitted. These variations can provide insight into upper limb activity, an important piece of information when reconstructing the lifestyle of a population. In my dissertation I will compare 24 measurements taken from each clavicle with the goal of establishing which parts of the clavicle are most influenced (represented by the largest variation in measurements) by external forces. The comparisons will be made across three different populations (human, gorilla, and chimpanzee), as well as within each population. In addition, a pattern in the degree and prevalence of clavicular variation will be looked for based on the sex of the individual the clavicle belonged to. The Eastbourne Ancestors Project will provide the human population data, and with the information gathered I hope to provide a possible explanation of what mechanical forces are contributing the most to clavicular morphology and how human variation compares to the variation found within gorilla and chimpanzee populations.

The volunteers have been fantastic and have worked hard to clean 44 individuals to date. We have about 250 to go…so watch this space for more information.

Over the last few weeks I have been holding ‘Open Lab’ sessions on a Tuesday and Friday from 1pm until 4pm. These will continue into August and I’m hoping to keep these sessions running throughout the duration of the project. If you are in Eastbourne, or fancy a visit, do pop in and see what we’ve been up to!

Also in August we will be holding a study afternoon titled; ‘The Ethics of Eastbourne Ancestors’, to discuss what and why we are undertaking this project. As a professional osteoarchaeologist I have ensured that all the human remains are treated with the utmost care and respect, strictly following several guidelines from professional bodies (English Heritage, Institute for Archaeologists and The British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology).

In September another 50 individuals will be transported to Canterbury University so that MSc Osteo students can study them for their dissertations. Whilst at Canterbury, isotope analysis will be conducted on the teeth to determine the state of each individuals diet, as well as determining if they are local or migrants to the area. I’m secretly hoping for a mixture of the two as it will be interesting to plot where they have come from.

We have also developed an Education Team and started work on our first ‘teaching ideas’ pack which relates to all the Key Stages. These will be sent to local schools and colleges to be used in conjunction with lab and exhibition visits.

If you want to keep up to date with our progress follow this blog via email or rss or look for us on Facebook and Twitter. I can also be emailed at: hayley (dot) forsyth (@) eastbourne (dot) gov (dot) uk if you would like more information about taking part in the bone prep.

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Also we are being followed by the BBC, details to come soon.