Ash Fell, Cumbria: sometimes osteology is not for the squeamish

As a part of the numerous Early Bronze Age burials I analysed during my PhD, I looked at a large number of individuals from the Greenwell collection at the Natural History Museum in London.  This was an excellent research trip for me, it meant I was in the basement of the museum analysing over 200 individuals.  For the most part, Greenwell only kept the skulls of certain individuals, probably those that were well preserved.

One of the more interesting specimens I discovered was an adult male from Ash Fell.  Below is a photo of the cranium, the photo isn’t great but it gives you an idea of what the preservation of prehistoric remains can be when it is good!


Ash Fell Cranium


One of the most common findings I’ve had when looking at prehistoric remains is dental pathologies….As the title of this post may have hinted…if you are squeamish, or easily grossed out …stop reading now!

The most striking aspect of pathology, this is a rather large build up of calculus on this person’s upper molars!

ash fell calculus

Below is a view of the whole maxilla, and the remaining teeth.  This individual seems to have suffered from periodontal disease as well.  Where some of the missing teeth should be, the bone has healed and the tooth sockets are gone.  You should be able to see the deposit of calculus on the left, also there is some evidence of re-construction.

ash fell maxilla


Here is a view of the corresponding mandible, this shows there were also missing teeth from the lower dentition.  Here the tooth sockets are closing up but they are still visible.  On the left of the photo (right side of mandible) the missing tooth corresponds to where the calculus is on the maxilla.  So the calculus has developed because there is no lower tooth for the upper tooth to abrade against.

ashfell mandible


Early last year I had a bit of a jaunt in Cumbria with a friend of mine, so we went to see if we could find the barrow that this skeleton came from.  This photo shows the approach when were almost at the top of the hill (and a more modern monument)! Can you see it yet?


Here you should be able to see a barrow in the foreground, and one further away.

view 1


Here is a close up of some disturbance at the barrow, which I was most interested in.

ash fell


It’s likely this is where our Bronze Age male came from.  Here is a photo of me in the hole…yes I’m wearing a silly hat.  To give you an idea of scale I’m about 5ft’1 tall (ish).

me at Ash fell


Finally here is a wider view of two of the barrows.  The one I was standing in is on the left!

wide view ash fell


That’s all for now.  Many thanks to Rob at the NHM, and to Annie for the guided tour.






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