Iron Age Butchers Dressed The Part

J.Lo's minidress helps us unravel one of England's Iron Age mysteries: where did the bodies go? Sat 01 January 2022

Versace chainmail minidress modelled by Jennifer Lopez, 1999. Source

Chainmail has a hidden history. This history:

Buckinghamshire's most famous butchered baby embryotomy. Source

He's famous for this femur:

Yewden baby femur. Source

It shows five cut marks. They've been explained as early surgery and Roman infanticide.

Notice any other evidence of 'medical intervention'?

Here's a hint:

He's not the only young male in Britain to lose his ass:

Male pelvis found at Danebury Hill Camp. Source: Mystic Britain Human Sacrifice S01 Ep07

Rump steak. It never goes out of fashion.

Also found at Danebury Hill Camp were pits containing 25 human skeletons. That was quite a find because Iron Age bodies are hard to come by:

"We don't know where they were disposed of or how." Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

From Forty years' researches in British and Saxon burial mounds of East Yorkshire, John Robert Mortimer, 1905, Introduction, page xlix:

the time which elapsed between the introduction of iron, and the full occupation of Britain by the Romans, was by no means a short one, and yet the burials which can be attributed to that period are but few.


"Archaeologists have found just a handful of bodies." Source: Mystic Britain Human Sacrifice S01 Ep07

Looks like something was eating them. A few miles west of Danebury Hill Camp is Battlesbury Camp, where these were found:

Fang puncture marks on human baby skull. Source

Gnawed human bones. Battlesbury Camp. Source

What was going on?

Dr Stephanie Knight analysed Danebury Hill Camp's many animal bones to find out what they say about Iron Age butchery. In her Butchery and Intra-Site Analysis of Animal Bone - A Case Study from Danebury Hillfort - Hampshire - England.pdf, she concluded the two most common methods of slaughtering animals were:

  1. Pole-axing: hitting the animal on the head.
  2. Sticking: cutting the animal's throat. (Only detectable if the butcher nicks the hyoid bone)

And she found the common signs of subsequent butchery are:

  1. Decapitation: cutting off the animal's head
  2. Removing (and discarding) the animal's feet
  3. Skinning marks: cut marks on the animal's bones

Fair enough. Let's apply these indications of butchery to the human remains found at Britain's ancient sites and see what they tell us.

This fellow was about ten when he died at Battlesbury Camp Iron Age fort:

Battlesbury Camp ten year old, pit 4332. Source

His big grin is fake - the back of his head appears to have been cracked open. Found with him were the stone seen next to his left shoulder, another stone near his hips, plus various animal bones.

And another person's foot.

Discarded right foot, pit 4332, Battlesbury Camp. Source

This grave provides evidence of:

  • Pole-axing - one of the most common methods of slaughtering, and
  • Feet disposal - one of the most common signs of post-slaughter butchery.

Pretty much every photograph and diagram of skeletons in the Battlesbury paper shows a cracked skull. Check this double adult find in Battlesbury's pit 4223:

Two humans with cracked skulls, pit 4223, Battlesbury Camp. Source

Maybe they were pole-axed. Or maybe brains were a delicacy. From: The Vintage News about Jamestown, Virginia, USA:

[It was in] summer of 2012 that historians made a disturbing discovery. In a hole that also contained butchered horse and dog skeletons, they found a body of a fourteen-year-old English girl, who died in the winter of 1609.

The young girl found in 2012 was one of the victims of starvation. Researchers discovered strikes at the back of the girl’s head—apparently an effort to reach her brain tissue, the most desired part.

Long presented as evidence of high-tech prehistoric health-care, trepanning (skulls with holes cut into them) may present evidence of deliberate reduction of individual intelligence. See

And given the problems with chronology and radiocarbon dating, and the evidence for the destruction of Pompeii in 1631, there's no reason to believe Britain's "Iron Age" human butchery occurred much earlier than Jamestown's human butchery in 1609.

Continuing our search for Knight's indications of butchery...

No point in looking for signs of 'sticking' - Knight's second slaughter indicator - because throat-cuts doesn't leave scars. Collection troughs are the evidence most likely to be found. Possibly associated with offal collection. For reference, here's what 'sticking' looks like in a modern abattoir:

Sticking stunned pigs. Source: AMI: Tour of a Pork Plant

Is there evidence that humans were slaughtered for meat and bio-material? Is there evidence of post-slaughter human butchery?


Starting with Knight's first indicator of butchery: decapitation:

Decapitation evidence from un-named site 13 miles from Maiden Castle hillfort. Source: Mystic Britain Human Sacrifice S01 Ep07

They also found animal bones in this 'burial' pit. Many human 'burials' are mixed with animal bones.

Other human decapitation finds:

  • 17 (33%) of 52 'extreme justice' decapitations noted at Knobb's Farm, Somersham, Cambridgeshire: BBC. Discussed as weapons training at post-103534.
  • 21 (40%) of 52 skeletons at Great Whelnetham, Suffolk: BBC
  • 54 decapitations - plus limb removal - at Ridgeway Hill, Weymouth: BBC, Daily Mail and Wikipedia article.
  • 10 out of 12 individuals were decapitated at Walkington Wold barrows' "execution cemetery": Buckberry and Hadley paper
  • and many others - such as near Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire - whose excavation reports seem to be unavailable.

Or take Merton, Norfolk: the right of Pedders Way an old Roman pavement, 10 yds square, was discovered about 3ft below the surface; and again bordering on the way in the Park, in trenching for a plantation, there were found bones of sheep and oxen, horns of deer, much broken Roman pottery, coin's and a knife blade, also a human skeleton without a head.

There's also more evidence for Knight's second sign of butchery - feet being removed. From page 97 of the Battlesbury paper:

Articulated bones, representative of re-deposited, partial skeletons (such as the articulated foot from pit 4332) have been reported from several Iron Age sites. A ‘burial’ from Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, was recorded as having been ‘dismembered’; only the foot bones remaining articulated and placed over other disarticulated elements.

In other words, low-meat/high-bone body-parts like human feet, were discarded intact. They offered too low a return-on-investment for further butchery.

Animal forelegs are also often found mixed with human remains.

From page 55 of Knight's Butchery and Intra-Site Spatial Analysis of Animal Bone: A Case Study From Danebury Hillfort, Hampshire, England:

A late Iron Age pit at Flagstones (Dorchester), in which was deposited an adult skeleton and infant skull, also contained articulated cattle and horse limbs (Hill 1995a: 121). The distinction between pits and burials appears to merge here, and articulated animal limbs and human remains are commonly found in pits at Danebury.

And from page 275:

Individual graves in Iron Age cemeteries in East Yorkshire (probably a reference to the Walkington Wold 'execution cemetery' site) often contain the remains of animal parts (Stead 1991). It is uncertain whether these parts could represent habitual meat ‘cuts’, or a specific funerary rite either as a sacrifice or a funerary meal. The parts include whole pig forelimbs and so do not correlate with the butchery patterns from Danebury, which show disarticulation at all joints on the leg.

In other words, human and animal parts that were inefficient to 'disarticulate' (in butcher's parlance, to 'joint') were discarded.

If they were animal, this is called 'butchery' and the holes the remains are found in are called 'pits'. If they were human, it is called 'sacrifice' or 'war' and the holes their remains are found in are called 'burials'.

Evidence of discarded forelimbs may be caught in church relic stories.

From Saint Lewinna: Alfriston Church, Sussex:

[Alfriston Church] is dedicated to St. Andrew, it also has associations with St. Lewinna, a virgin martyr killed by a heathen ... and buried there until her remains were stolen ... and taken to Flanders.

Balger ... and ... his scribe, Drogo, made their way on recommendation to a church assumed today to be Alfriston, for Easter Mass and stole the bones of St. Lewinna, leaving only a few finger bones.

Away in a Manger - Part One, Part Two and Burghers in the Priors' Ovens present more evidence that England's religious sites prepared human carcasses as food.

Do we have evidence of cut marks caused by skinning or disarticulation? Besides, that is, the Hambleden baby, the two missing pelvis finds, and the discarded feet?

Cut marks: a few but not many. Hack marks: plenty.

Iron Age animal butchery shows few cut marks on bones. So few cut marks, in fact, that when they are found they are interpreted as evidence of an inexperienced butcher. Experienced butchers took bodies apart the easy way - at the joints - usually leaving no marks at all. Presumably to preserve their blade edges.

Iron Age butchers were professionals. Source

When humans are found hacked up, the dismemberment locations suggest meatier parts were being separated from less useful parts:

A bizarre prehistoric practice. Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep0

Time Team's Carsington cave dig found 26 identifiable individuals, 12 of them babies, eight of which were newborns. From Time Team at Carsington Cave:

"Isn't this weird!". Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

(There's a visual gag at the end. When Alice Roberts says "That is part of a child's skull again", the scene cuts to a view of Tony Robinson's head.)

And there's more. From Michael Lally's Bodies, Bones, Objects and Stones: Investigating Infancy, Infant Death, Deposition and Human identity in Iron Age Southern England, page 253:

The archaeological record for Iron Age southern England demonstrates that acts of violence were not limited to adult bodies alone. Evidence exists to show that children were treated in similar ways. Direct evidence for this has been found at Viables II (Jay’s Close) in Hampshire, where infant deposition L1037, a six to seven month old, had been intentionally split in half from the head to the groin, either resulting in death or at some point soon after death (Baxter and Duhig 2004, 24).

A similar example was reported at Wandlebury, where the remains of a dismembered six year old child were found (Hartley 1957; Cunliffe 2005, 573; Green 1998; 2002, 53-54). Here, analysis suggested that the child had had his legs ‘hacked off’ before being deposited in a pit feature. A second, ‘drastically mutilated’ (Hartley 1957, 15) deposition was also uncovered in another of Wandlebury’s pits. This took the form of an adult female, whose head lay apart from her trunk and whose femurs had been deliberately broken off a few centimetres below the pelvis.

As Knight says above:

The distinction between pits and burials appears to merge...

Let's take a look at a sketch of the halved baby found at Viables II, (Jay's Close), Hampshire:

Note how only a fragment of its pelvis remains. Source

Why would you split a baby in half?

Making bacon. Source: AMI: Tour of a Pork Plant

Maybe the baby was shared between two diners. Maybe part of it was packed and distributed for later consumption.

This is the so-called 'spear head' that was found alongside the remaining half:

Jay's Close split baby 'spear head'. Source

For hunted prey, the rounded base of this 'spear' tip's makes it easy to remove. It looks more like the tip of a rotisserie paddle - a tool for preventing meat from slipping while it is roasted over a fire.

These tools show up in depictions butchery of slaves in America:

Section from Plate 16: "How a slave was killed and eaten," America, Vol. III, 1592, Frankfurt. Source: Black Legend Cannibalism

And in models made by prisoners of war early in the 19th century:

Section of model made by a Napoleonic prisoner. Source: Plate IX, The Depot for Prisoners of War at Norman Cross

This 'spear' tip is not the only tool from the past that doesn't look a good fit for its described use. Take chainmail.

From Chain mail - Wikipedia:

Its invention is commonly credited to the Celts

Celtic Kevlar! Well, not quite. From Medieval Life and Times:

Shirts made of Chain Mail Clothing weighed up to 25 kilograms, depending on the size and the number of Chain Mail Clothing garments worn.

How did soldiers remain mobile while wielding hand-weapons through a battle - while wearing up to 25kg (60 lbs) of chainmail? Especially when chainmail doesn't even protect its wearer from arrows:

Arrows penetrate chainmail. Source and Lars Anderson archery clip in post-106374

If chainmail is heavy to wear and doesn't protect its wearer from one of mankind's most common weapons, then it's just a fashion accessory, right?

Paco Rabanne 'Unwearable Dress', 1966. Source:

But chainmail has another, less well-known, use. From

Going to buy meat from your local butcher, you may have seen them with a chainmail apron or chainmail gloves used a protective gear.

Apron and chainmail. Source: AMI: Tour of a Pork Plant

I asked a guy who used to work in a sausage factory in Beccles, Suffolk: did they wear chainmail?

Yes. The butchers did.

Does mainstream media offer us any hints about human butchery?

Scene from The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, allegedly painted around 1562:

Butcher in chain-mail, 1592. Source: The Triumph of Death

But otherwise, evidence of human butchery is presented as an enigmatic possibility from much longer ago.

From Natural History Museum: Macabre Burial Practices of Iron Age Britons Revealed:

pre-Roman Britons frequently interacted with their dead, often by digging up corpses or retrieving decomposing body parts.

Even where Iron Age human bones are recovered, they are typically found in unusual configurations and at surprising locations.

Most are unearthed in various states of disarticulation - as individual bones or detached limbs - and some have been found in pits used to store grain.

"At the Danebury site, remains of at least 300 individuals have been found, but no more than 40 have been complete skeletons." Source: Natural History Museum

And what else might have been eating us?

Derbyshire's Carsington Cave is by a quarry. 400m away are the remains of a barrow mound.

British TV's Time Team found human bones buried in the cave and in the barrow:

"The barrow serves the community in the next valley". Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

Serves the community to whom?

Or what?

One clue may be Carsington cave's intriguing layout:

Layout of Carsington cave. Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

Let's listen to the first part of that clip again:

"You have to be a worm." Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

From The Hearse Song:

The worms crawl in. The worms crawl out. They crawl in thin and they crawl out stout.

But worms don't fill wormholes with human bones. Maybe the explanation is that 'worm' can mean 'monster', serpent' and 'dragon'. Maybe Britain's worm and serpent legends are about diner-saurs.

Time Team's Carsington episode also contained this uncommented two-second sequence showing a limbless skeleton:

Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

Maybe it was a visual gag - the thing doesn't look much good at scrabbling through rocks. And it's easy to ignore folklore. Until you see some of the faces reconstructed from Carsington cave skulls:

Not your ordinary garden gnome. Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

You can see what might have inspired another Time Team gag. From Walkington Wold burials - Wikipedia:

Such barrows were thought to be the haunt of dragons, goblins and the like

And from Polly Hewat's retelling of the Lincolnshire tale of Sir Hugh Barde:

In the 12th century the countryside was plagued by this [dragon], who captured and ate the people of Castle Carlton.

The dragon's lair was empty, except for a pile of bones and a heap of skulls, the beast itself being several miles from home, digesting two men and a child which had been its dinner.

Or take Ludham, Norfolk, famous to folklorists for its dragon, which harried residents from numerous tunnels under the village.

The killing of Ludham's dragon was reported on page two of the Norfolk Chronicle on Saturday, September 28th, 1782:

On Monday the 14th inst. a snake of an enormous size was destroyed at Ludham in this County by Jasper Andrews of that place. It measured 5 feet 8 inches long, was almost 3 feet in circumference and had a very long snout. What is remarkable there were two excrescences on the forepart of the head which very much resembled horns. The creature seldom made its appearance in the day time but kept concealed in subterranean retreats, several of which have been discovered in the town, one near the bake-office and another on the premises of the Revd. N. V. Jeffrey and another in the land occupied by Mr. Popple at the Hall.

Ludham folklore speaks of a quarrying Devil, who dug deep pits and spilt gravel as he carried the tailings away.

Folklore claims King Arthur killed a dragon just below the Iron Age fort of Uffington Castle, near its famous White Horse. The oddly-shaped Dragon Hill is allegedly a natural mound of chalk with an artificially flattened top in an otherwise artificially-made Iron Age landscape.

Dragon Hill, Uffington Oxfordshire. SOURCE

Between the white horse and Dragon Hill, a series of large earth steps leading into a 'col' - a rounded rock hollow - called 'The Manger'.

'The Manger' - with Dragon Hill behind Source

Folklore also says the white horse used to eat in The Manger (Manger: a food trough for cattle and the french verb for 'to eat'). Folklore named this feature 'The Giant's Steps'. Mainstream science claims they - along with Dragon Hill - are an Ice Age feature.

Forty-seven skeletons were found in a low barrow on the skyline between the horse and Uffington castle fort.

Back at Carsington Cave, the ground around the cave was raised so both it and the nearby barrow would have been visible on the skyline. They were easy to find.

Feeding the dragon: a how-to. Source: Time Team Carsington, Derbyshire S10 Ep03

A sacred space. A circular area into which human bodies may be brought.

You may even come along and pick up the big bones.

Not having a worm, serpent, dragon or goblin to hand, I asked the Internet for help:

"A sacred space. A circular area into which body parts may be brought."

Locations discussed in this evidence collection


  • Blue: Evidence of human butchery
  • Black: Evidence includes butchery of human babies and/or babies
  • Yellow: Butchery sites not discussed in this piece

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