A heel bone belonging to a victim of the brutal Roman execution of crucifixion has been unearthed in England.
A nail was hammered into the bone of a probable slave in a brutal execution in third or fourth century Britannia.
The Celtic victim died between the ages of 25 and 35 and was found to have had thinning in his leg bones, indicating that he had been “chained to a wall” for a prolonged period before his crucifixion.
David Ingham, a project manager at Albion Archaeology, who led the excavation of the remains, said: “We think he was one of the local native population.”
Archaeologists discovered the man’s battered skeleton in a cemetery containing the graves of 48 people.
The remains exhibited signs that they had toiled endlessly in hard manual labour.
Nearby, they found a kind of workshop, where animal bones were split so that marrow, which was used to make soap and other products, could be extracted.
The team conducted the excavations before a housing development was built in the area, in Cambridgeshire.
They published the findings last month in British Archaeology magazine.
It’s possible that the crucified man, along with other people buried in the cemetery, were slaves, Mr Ingham told Live Science.
He said that in A.D. 212, Roman citizenship was extended to all free people who lived in the sprawling Empire and that crucifixion was generally reserved for those deemed unfit to be citizens – slaves in other words.
During the crucifixion, the man’s arms would have been tied to a cross, with his feet nailed to the ground.
This agonising contortion would have made it hard to breathe, and the ultimate cause of death would have been suffocation.
Even for slaves, crucifixion was rare and would only have been inflicted on victims for “one of the most serious crimes”.
This raises the prospect that the executed man was punished for a crime such as rebellion or treason against the state.
This discovery is one of a handful of examples of a crucified person being found from the Roman Empire, Mr Ingham said.
Another example, discovered in 1968, was unearthed in a first-century tomb in Jerusalem.
Obviously there are the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ execution, by crucifixion, which have maintained the barbaric method of death in the public consciousness ever since.
Although the Romans were not the first to employ the grisly form of execution.
There are accounts of its use by Alexander the Great, with the Macedonian king said to have crucified 2,000 survivors from his siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre in 332 BC.
The practice is thought to have started even further back in some of the first civilisations, with the Assyrians and Babylonians.
It was also carried out by the Persians in the sixth century BC.
In that rendering of the practice victims were lashed to trees or posts.
It was the Romans, ever the innovators even – and perhaps especially – in dealing gruesome death, that first used specially-made crosses.
Roman Emperor Constantine I, the so-called first Christian Emperor (above), abolished the practice in the fourth century AD.