The Wharram Percy bones show a total of 76 sharp-force marks, mainly knife-marks, on the upper body parts. The marks were made “with a fine knife drawn across the bone,” the researchers noted.
“The knife marks can be interpreted in terms of dismemberment or other mutilation of the body, and those in the head and neck area may be associated with decapitation,” they wrote.
They added that at least 17 bones show evidence for low-temperature burning, while six long bones feature breakage that occurred at or sometime after death.
Why these 10 individuals would have been treated by the villagers in this way, or elicited such fear, remains a mystery.
“We don't know,” Pike said. “We have historical accounts of how the dead who may have been killed suddenly, or wronged in some way, come back to life and cause trouble.”
He added that no frightening diseases were detected from the bones.
“We found just a few cases of joint disease, but with a similar frequency to the individuals buried in the nearby graveyard, so there is no reason to believe these individuals were unusual,” he remarked.
Strontium isotopic analyses in the teeth suggest that the people whose corpses were mutilated likely grew up in an area close to where they were buried, possibly in the village.
“This was surprising to us, as we first wondered if the unusual treatment of the bodies might relate to their being from further afield,” Pike said.
When the bones were discovered, it was believed they belonged to were Romano- British settlers whose remains were inadvertently disturbed and reburied by the villagers in late Medieval times.
But the new study instead suggests a ghastly reality.
“It provides a graphic reminder of how different the medieval view of the world was from our own,” Mays said.