www.archaeology.ws/archive

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oa.1227/abstract

Violent death for older male 20,000-28,000 years ago in Russia

The Mid Upper Paleolithic Sunghir 1 burial of an older adult male is one of the most elaborate burials known, with red ochre, thousands of mammoth ivory beads, and other body ornaments. Reanalysis and cleaning of the skeletal remains revealed a perimortem incision in the ventral–lateral first thoracic vertebra (T1) body, most likely from a sharp blade or point and the probable cause of death. Context indicates that the trauma was most likely from a hunting accident or social altercation. The unusual cause of death may be correlated with the exceptional burial elaboration of Sunghir 1, adding to the high frequency of unusual individuals in the ‘red ochre’ burials of the Mid Upper Paleolithic.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-11710978

Items found in Monmouth shed light on Mesolithic man

8 November 2010 Last updated at 15:25

 

The discovery of artefacts during gas mains excavations in Monmouth has helped illustrate how the River Wye supported a Stone Age camp.

 

Archaeologists found flint tools and bone fragments at St James's Square and Wyebridge Street.

 

They indicate hunter-gatherers used the River Wye for food and transport some 6,500 to 7,500 years ago.

 

The late Mesolithic items show there were settlers in the area thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

 

The artefacts were found - during gas mains work - under a former riverbank where the River Wye used to flow before it changed course.

 

Elizabeth Walker, curator of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology at National Museum Wales, examined the items after being alerted by Monmouth archaeologist Steve Clarke.

 

Ms Walker said: "It's a nice little group of later Mesolithic flints - middle Stone Age - they are probably around 6,500 or 7,500 years old.

 

"Among the items are two little flint barbs which would have been hafted [attached] onto a piece of wood or antler and used for fishing or hunting.

 

"We have also got a scraper from there which might have been used for cleaning the skins or scraping bark and twigs.

 

"There were also quite a few waste pieces of flint used in making the tools."

 

Jane Bray, of Monmouth Archaeology, said local archaeologists had been keeping a close eye on the excavation work in the town.

 

Mr Clarke found a fleck of charcoal in the sand of the ancient flood plain alerting them to what was beneath the old river bank.

 

Ms Bray said: "They have been removing the gas mains in the top end of the town and we've been watching all the trenches as part of that.

 

"We watch them digging, get in and have a look. These are by far the earliest finds we've had."

 

The previous earliest known settlement in the town was believed to have been about 2,500 years old.

 

Ms Walker said the find suggested there was some sort of camp beside the river where people were making stone tools.

 

"They would have been heavily dependent on fish in their diet and they would have been nomadic," she said.

 

"They would have been near the river in the winter months and maybe up in the hills hunting in the summer.

 

The people would've come back into Britain following herds of game that had been moving in for the plant food available”Elizabeth Walker

National Museum Wales

 

"It's important evidence within the body of evidence about how people were living and what they were doing at this time."

 

She said there had been significant sites of this type found in Monmouthshire previously, but none next to the river.

 

The landscape during this period would have been one covered by trees and featuring animals such as deer, wolves and possibly horses.

 

"We had come out of the last Ice Age and the climate had really improved. All the trees and plants had moved back in," said Ms Walker.

 

"The people would've come back into Britain following herds of game that had been moving in for the plant food available."

 

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/megalithic-tombrsquos-secrets-revealed-after-5500-years-14995096.html

Megalithic tomb’s secrets revealed after 5,500 years

By Linda Stewart

Thursday, 4 November 2010

 

Flint tools from the dawn of time and an ancient blue glass bead have been uncovered by archaeologists excavating a portal tomb in Northern Ireland for the first time in 50 years.

 

The team are thrilled with the discoveries yielded by Tirnony dolmen near Maghera.

 

Portal tombs, which are among the oldest built structures still surviving in the province, are usually off limits to archaeologists as preservation orders protect them from intrusive processes such as excavations.

 

However the dolmen collapsed earlier this year due to weathering and the affects of tree roots. Before repairs are carried out, the archaeologists have the chance to unearth the secrets held in the tomb for 5,500 years. Cormac McSparron, who is from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen's University Belfast, which is working with DoE archaeologists, said: “We expected to find evidence of human burial, but the nature of the soil has caused any bones to decay completely. But what we have found is grave goods placed in the tomb with the bodies.

 

“We have found several different types of flint tools — a couple of really fine flint knives and flint scrapers placed into the tomb with the personal possessions of the deceased, presumably for them to take with them into the afterlife.”

 

Pottery bowls dating from around 3,500 or 3,600BC were also found. Mr McSparron said there was also evidence for later use of the tomb.

 

“It became a centre of local interest and a ritual centre coming into almost the Christian era, and we have found a really beautiful blue glass bead dating to 200-300AD which would have been placed into the tomb, probably as a pendant rather than a necklace,” he said.

 

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/megalithic-tombrsquos-secrets-revealed-after-5500-years-14995096.html#ixzz14d88Oq9a

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11651691

Bronze Age hoard found intact in Essex field

31 October 2010

Last updated at 23:08

 

Archaeologists have unearthed a collection of Bronze Age axe heads, spear tips and other 3,000-year-old metal objects buried in an Essex field.

 

The items include an intact pottery container with heavy contents which has been removed undisturbed.

 

The materials are now at a local museum where archaeologists hope to uncover new insights into Bronze Age Britain.

 

"This is a really exciting find," said local archaeologist Laura McLean.

 

"To find a hoard still located in its Bronze Age context, below the level of ploughed soil, is very rare. The fact that there is pottery involved makes the find even more unusual."

 

The location was reported to archaeologists at Colchester and Ipswich Museums by a landowner from the Burnham-on-Crouch area and Mr J Humphreys, a metal detectorist.

 

Three other hobbyists then came forward to report more finds in the same area including the top of a pottery vessel.

 

"This is a really exciting find and a good example of metal detectorists and archaeologists working together to uncover and record our history, making sure it is not lost forever," says McLean who acts as local Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

 

The excavation at the Bronze Age site was filmed and the objects have been removed to allow archaeologists to carry out their studies.

 

As the intact pot was so fragile and the contents were heavy, the decision was taken to "block lift" the vessel and transport it to the museums laboratory for further study.

 

In block lifting, the soil around the object is excavated and the object itself is sealed - on this occasion in cling film - to preserve it intact and to prevent damage when transporting it.

 

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/features/features/8487242.Was_death_of_Iron_Age_man_a_ritual_killing_/

Was death of Iron Age man at Heslington East a ritual killing?

11:45am Monday 1st November 2010

By Stephen Lewis »

 

IT was a moment of violence and savagery that has been shrouded in the mists of time.

 

Roughly 2,500 years ago, about where the University of York’s new campus is taking shape at Heslington East, a man in his early middle age suffered a sudden and ugly death.

 

He was hanged, then decapitated, his skull separated from his body. The skull was quickly buried in a small pit. There may well have been an element of ritual to the killing.

 

Fast forward 2,500 years. In 2008, archaeologists were excavating the area ready for the new campus to be built. They had found evidence of an extensive prehistoric farming landscape of fields, trackways and circular huts, dating back to at least 300 BC. And then, lying on its own in a muddy pit, they found a human skull.

 

It wasn’t the only time they were to find human remains on the site. Subsequent excavations were to reveal further remains, thought to date from the Roman period.

 

But when archaeologists got this particular skull back to the lab to clean it, they discovered something remarkable.

 

Rachel Cubitt, finds officer with the York Archaeological Trust, was cleaning soil off the skull’s outer surface when she felt something move inside.

 

At first she thought it might just be mud or soil. But peering through the base of the skull, she spotted un unusual yellow substance inside.

 

It was, she admits, a “bit unsettling”. And it jogged her memory about a university lecture on the rare survival of ancient brain tissue.

 

What she had found, in fact, was Britain’s oldest brain.

 

A CT scanner at York Hospital was used to produce startlingly clear images of the brain. And then Dr Sonia O’Connor, a research fellow in archaeological sciences at Bradford University, was brought in to examine the brain in more detail.

 

She has been studying it ever since: and tomorrow, she will talk about her discoveries in a public lecture for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society at the Tempest Anderson Hall in York.

 

Her talk, according to the society, will offer “powerful evidence of the final moments of this individual’s life, his death and burial.”

 

So what do we know about him? Not a great deal, admits Dr O’Connor. We know from radiocarbon dating that he died sometime between 763 and 415 BC: at least 2,400 years ago, in other words, and possibly earlier. He was a fully grown man, aged between 26 and 45: and probably not older than 36. “We can’t tell closer than that, because we have just the skull.”

 

His skull was probably buried very quickly – which may help explain why it survived, though the “anoxic” conditions of the waterlogged mud where it has lain for millennia were also responsible. And there may have been a ritual or sacrificial element to his death.

 

He was hanged first, and then his head cut off, quite neatly and precisely, leaving the skull and two vertebrae.

 

This was buried in a pit in an area archaeologists are starting to associate with ritual.

 

“There are a lot of very unusual pit fillings, which suggest this might have been some sort of ritual environment,” Dr O’Connor said.

 

They include the headless body of a deer; some antlers; and some pits with a single wooden stake in each.

 

“They could have been used to mark the pit.”

 

An Iron Age mystery to have you shivering in your beds.

 

http://enperublog.com/2010/10/31/tomb-of-high-ranking-ruler-found-at-kuelap/

Tomb of high ranking ruler found at Kuélap

October 31, 2010

 

In an imposing building located in the highest reaches of the Chachapoyan citadel of Kuélap, a team of archaeologists have uncovered one of the most important tombs yet found.

 

Almost three months ago researchers led by Alfredo Naváez discovered a tomb containing the remains of six people during routine excavations. It was found in the area of the city named Pueblo Alto, a southern residential sector.

 

Continuing work in the same place over the coming months, the team was able to register almost 100 offerings, from spondylus shells to ceramics to many items of precious metals and stones.

 

Beneath these objects the team noticed four irregular stones marking three large slabs of stone that were clearly used to seal some form of main tomb. Stunned at the unexpected find, it was obvious they had stumbled upon something of great importance.

 

This past Thursday after pressing ahead with the opening of the tomb, the researchers are certain they have discovered the final resting of the most important Chachapoyas ruler yet found from any point in their 500 year history.

 

The inside of the funerary chamber is divided in two parts. In one half were found the remains of a person in a foetal position. In the other were the remains of a llama, more spondylus shells and three ceramic objects – among them two vases with Inca motifs and colors.

 

The tomb is the only one of its kind found belonging to the Chachapoyas culture, it is even unusual in that it is the same shape as a modern coffin.

 

The coffin was built with 11 flat stones of similar dimensions and smaller ones, together with mud mortar.

 

According to Narváez, they are as yet unable to establish a specific level of rank or function of this person, but it appears to have been an important governor of Chachapoyan society during the period of Inca domination.

 

In an interview with El Comercio, Narváez states: “The tomb has offerings that were brought all the way from Cusco, but the person is not necessarily from there, rather an important local during the Inca occupation that was of high rank. He’s a Chachapoyan.”

 

The discovering is of unique importance because it is the first of a new kind of burial type that is quite unlike the traditional Chachapoyan burials, which generally consist of remains placed in sarcophagi placed up high on cliffs and ridges.

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/nov/06/luftwaffe-spy-tudor-garden-lyveden

Luftwaffe spy photo reveals lost Tudor garden

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian,           

Saturday 6 November 2010

 

Field markings show the Tudor maze at Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire, indicated by a Luftwaffe crew's aerial snapshot. Photograph: National Trust/PA

A German spy photograph of a ruined house in Northamptonshire surrounded by oddly marked fields, has revealed a secret unguessed at by the Luftwaffe cameraman: such important evidence of a lost Tudor garden that the site has been awarded Grade I status by English Heritage, ranking it among the most important gardens in Europe.

 

The garden's grass ring marks, shown clearly by the aerial, monochrome, photograph, are 120 metres across and almost certainly mark a Tudor labyrinth tracing in symbolic form the religious faith of its creator – a faith that finally cost the man his family fortune and his son's life, after the latter was exposed as one of the Gunpowder plotters.

 

In 1944 the photographer was probably disappointed with his efforts: the house and garden of Lyveden New Bield, near Oundle, and now owned by the National Trust, were undoubtedly peculiar but could have had no military significance.

 

The Luftwaffe images are now part of the US national archive, kept in Maryland, and were only studied closely when the National Trust ordered copies in the past six months.

 

The 10 concentric circles, which have almost vanished from sight at ground level through 20th century ploughing, were probably planted with the 400 raspberry and rose bushes referred to in letters of Sir Thomas Tresham, and now held in the British Library.

 

Tresham created the cruciform hunting lodge and its moated garden, which is riddled with Roman Catholic symbolism.

 

Tony Calladine, a heritage protection officer for English Heritage, said: "Its remarkable state of preservation and its association with Thomas Tresham, famous gardener, recusant and architect, make it one of the most extraordinary and unique designed landscapes in the country."

 

Mark Bradshaw, property manager for the National Trust, plans to carry out an archaeological survey to trace the foundations, and then perhaps a recreation of the original planting. He explained that the raspberries symbolised the passion of Christ, and the white roses Christ's mother, while the labyrinth itself represented a spiritual journey on the one true path – there is only one way through the circles  on the ground to reach the centre of the maze.

 

Tresham remained a staunch Roman Catholic, frequently paying hefty fines, throughout the dangerous years of Henry VIII's break from Rome and in the years beyond.

 

He died in September 1605, leaving £11,000 in debts, with the garden still unfinished and the house left roofless: neither was ever completed.

 

Two months later his son Francis was exposed as being a member of the Gunpowder Plot.

 

He was also suspected of writing the mysterious letter that betrayed the plot before Guy Fawkes could blow up parliament and everyone in it.

 

Francis was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died aged 38 allegedly of natural causes on 23 December: like the mysteries of his father's garden, the affair has been debated ever since.

 

http://www.livescience.com/culture/beer-helped-rise-of-civilization-101104.html

Beer Lubricated the Rise of Civilization, Study Suggests

By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor

posted: 05 November 2010 08:39 am ET

Buzz up!

Comments (13) | Recommend (25)

May beer have helped lead to the rise of civilization? It's a possibility, some archaeologists say.

 

Their argument is that Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads, by turning the grains into beer. That has been their take for more than 50 years, and now one archaeologist says the evidence is getting stronger.

 

Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible, plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings, support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer,  said archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

 

"Beer is sacred stuff in most traditional societies," said Hayden, who is planning to submit research on the origins of beer to the journal Current Anthropology.

 

The advent of agriculture began in the Neolithic Period of the Stone Age about 11,500 years ago. Once-nomadic groups of people had settled down and were coming into contact with each other more often, spurring the establishment of more complex social customs that set the foundation of more-intricate communities.

 

The Neolithic peoples living in the large area of Southwest Asia called the Levant developed from the Natufian culture, pioneers in the use of wild cereals, which would evolve into true farming and more settled behavior. The most obvious explanation for such cultivation is that it was done in order to eat.

 

Archaeological evidence suggests that until the Neolithic, cereals such as barley and rice constituted only a minor element of diets, most likely because they require so much labor to get anything edible from them — one typically has to gather, winnow, husk and grind them, all very time-consuming tasks.

 

Hayden told LiveScience he has seen that hard work for himself. "In traditional Mayan villages where I've worked, maize is used for tortillas and for chicha, the beer made there. Women spend five hours a day just grinding up the kernels."

 

However, sites in Syria suggest that people nevertheless went to unusual lengths at times just to procure cereal grains — up to 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 km). One might speculate, Hayden said, that the labor associated with grains could have made them attractive in feasts in which guests would be offered foods that were difficult or expensive to prepare, and beer could have been a key reason to procure the grains used to make them.

 

"It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies," Hayden said.

 

Feasts would have been more than simple get-togethers — such ceremonies have held vital social significance for millennia, from the Last Supper to the first Thanksgiving.

 

"Feasts are essential in traditional societies for creating debts, for creating factions, for creating bonds between people, for creating political power, for creating support networks, and all of this is essential for developing more complex kinds of societies," Hayden explained. "Feasts are reciprocal — if I invite you to my feast, you have the obligation to invite me to yours. If I give you something like a pig or a pot of beer, you're obligated to do the same for me or even more."

 

"In traditional feasts throughout the world, there are three ingredients that are almost universally present," he said. "One is meat. The second is some kind of cereal grain, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, in the form of breads or porridge or the like. The third is alcohol, and because you need surplus grain to put into it, as well as time and effort, it's produced almost only in traditional societies for special occasions to impress guests, make them happy, and alter their attitudes favorably toward hosts."

 

The brewing of alcohol seems to have been a very early development linked with initial domestication, seen during Neolithic times in China, the Sudan, the first pottery in Greece and possibly with the first use of maize. Hayden said circumstantial evidence for brewing has been seen in the Natufian, in that all the technology needed to make it is there — cultivated yeast, grindstones, vessels for brewing and fire-cracked rocks as signs of the heating needed to prepare the mash.

 

"We still don't have the smoking gun for brewing in the Natufian, with beer residues in the bottom of stone cups or anything like that," Hayden said. "But hopefully people will start looking for that — people haven't yet."                

 

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/8496707.Experts_reveal_brutal_Viking_massacre/

Experts reveal brutal Viking massacre

9:30am Friday 5th November 2010

By Liam Sloan

 

VIKING skeletons buried beneath an Oxford college were the victims of brutal ethnic cleansing 1,000 years ago, archaeologists have discovered.

 

Experts were mystified when they discovered a mass grave beneath a quadrangle a St John’s College, St Giles, in 2008.

 

But, after two years of CSI-style detective work, they believe they can pinpoint the exact day in 1002 AD that Danish settlers were rounded up on the streets of Oxford and murdered, before being carted out of the city gates and dumped in a ditch.

 

Thames Valley Archaeological Services (TVAS) uncovered the remains of 34 to 38 young men in March 2008, during excavations for a new college building.

 

Bone experts realised they had been murdered as their skeletons were left with cracked skulls, stab wounds in their spines and pelvic bones, and there were signs of burning.

 

Five had been stabbed in the back, and one had been decapitated.

 

Tests dated them to between 960 and 1020 AD, and archaeologists first thought they were the remains of executed Saxon criminals.

 

But when the chemical composition of the bones was analysed, they revealed the men ate far more fish and shellfish than Anglo-Saxons, suggesting they were Viking settlers from Denmark.

 

Project leader Sean Wallis, of TVAS, believes they were killed on St Brice’s Day, November 13, 1002 AD, when King Aethelred the Unready ordered Englishmen across his kingdom to murder their Danish neighbours.

 

Documentary evidence shows Oxford residents rounded up the Danes and massacred them, burning down a wooden church where they fled for safety.

 

Mr Wallis said: “Obviously, we can never be 100 per cent definite, but everything points to these skeletons being the remains of the men murdered in the St Brice’s Day massacre.

 

“The level of the collagen in the bones suggests that they came from North West Europe, and their skeletons suggest they were big, muscular guys. I basically read this as ethnic cleansing.

 

“There were totally different circumstances 1,000 years ago, but basically the order went out that this particular race should be exterminated.

 

“It is the find of my career so far.”

 

Now some of the bones are being studied by forensic science students at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, Oxpens Road.

 

Science lecturer Amy Dawson said: “The students are really excited to have something that is real and can be linked to a specific event.

 

“We can see the wounds inflicted at the point of death and prior to death.”

 

What will happen to the remains is not yet decided.

 

http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/local/richmondnews/8619853.Tests_carried_out_on_skull/

Tests carried out on skull found in Sir David Attenborough's garden

9:00am Saturday 6th November 2010

By Joanna Kilvington »

 

Police are no closer to establishing the identity of a skull found in wildlife presenter Sir David Attenborough’s Richmond garden.

 

The human remains, thought to belong to Julia Martha Thomas – a former resident murdered by her maid in the 1800s – were taken away for scientific examination last week but police said identification of the skull could take weeks.

 

Don Walker, a human osteologist in the Museum of London’s archaeology department, said: “When you study bones or a skeleton you try to find out the age of the individual and you can do that by looking at various parts of the skeleton.

 

“Unfortunately, in many cases, especially if you just get a bit of the body you can only say if it is a juvenile or an adult – as it limits the range of aging you can do.”

 

Police appealed for relatives of Mrs Thomas to contact them so DNA tests can be carried out.

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1323762/How-skull-David-Attenboroughs-garden-solved-Victorian-Britains-gruesome-murder-mysteries.html

How a skull found in David Attenborough's garden has solved one of Victorian Britain's most gruesome murder mysteries

Workmen building an extension at the Richmond home of Sir David Attenborough unearthed a skull in the naturalist's garden. The police are almost certain it is that of Mrs Thomas, who was murdered 130 years ago

By MATT FULLERTY

Last updated at 9:43 AM on 26th October 2010

 

On a bright, spring morning, coal porter Henry Wheatley and his companion were driving their horse and cart along the Thames.

Shortly before seven o'clock, just before arriving at Barnes Bridge, South London, Wheatley noticed a wooden box lying half-submerged in the water.

He got down from his cart and, with some difficulty, hauled the box on to the bank. Noticing that it was tied with cord, Wheatley took out his knife and cut it open.

He then gave the box a kick and it collapsed. What he saw next turned his stomach. A mass of white flesh fell to the ground. At first, Wheatley's companion suggested they'd stumbled across a box of butcher's offcuts.

 

But Wheatley knew his find was far more grisly  -  in fact, he'd stumbled across the body parts of a dismembered woman. The date was March 5, 1879. Wheatley immediately reported his find to the police at Barnes.

A pathologist identified the body parts as belonging to a short, somewhat tubby woman.

The corpse had been cut up with an ordinary meat saw, and a contraction of flesh away from some of the bones suggested that the pieces had been boiled.

However, the body was missing not only a foot, but also something vital to help with identification  -  its head.

Five days later, another gruesome discovery was made  -  this time on a manure heap in an allotment in Twickenham, about five miles from Barnes. It was a box containing the missing foot, which had been boiled in the same way as the rest of the corpse.

For the next few days, the police could only guess as to the identity of the body  -  which some newspapers speculated could have been used by medical students for dissection.

However, by the end of the month and with help from a key witness, the police and the public learned the body belonged to a 50-year- old woman called Julia Martha Thomas, who lived in Richmond.

 

She had been murdered by her servant, a 30-year-old Irish woman called Katherine Webster.

Because of the gruesome nature of the corpse, the public were fascinated by the case. Some people even removed pebbles and twigs as souvenirs from the small garden of Mrs Thomas's cottage in Park Road, Richmond.

What was never discovered was Mrs Thomas's head. Its location remaining a secret  -  until last week, a full 130 years later,

On Friday, workmen building an extension at the Richmond home of Sir David Attenborough unearthed a skull in the naturalist's garden, and the police are almost certain it is that of Mrs Thomas.

Should this indeed be the case, then the final chapter of one of the most foul murders in Victorian London can now be written.

As a crime novelist, I've long been fascinated by the tale of the Richmond Murder  -  and I've even written a book based on the killing.

The murderer, Katherine Webster, was born in a small village in County Wexford in 1849. She spent her teenage years in and out of prison. At around the age of 17, she fled to Liverpool, where she lived as a drifter and furthered her skills as a burglar.

However, she soon found herself locked up and was sentenced to four years of penal servitude in 1867.

Released after three years, she made her way south to London, where she apparently attempted to make an honest living.

In 1873, she lodged in Rose Gardens, Hammersmith, West London, next to a family called the Porters, who would play a major part in her fate six years later.

Some time the following year, she gave birth to a son out of wedlock.

Unable to make ends meet Webster once more turned to thieving and, in 1875, she was sentenced to 18 months in London's Wandsworth prison for a staggering 36 offences of larceny.

As soon as she got out, she re-offended, and was locked up for another year in February 1877. In January 1879, she finally appeared to turn her back on a life of crime by taking a job as a servant for Mrs Thomas, at her home in Richmond.

Aged around 50, and recently widowed, Mrs Thomas was a small woman who took her religion seriously and was a devoted worshipper at the local Presbyterian chapel.

Unsurprisingly, the two women did not get along well. Mrs Thomas often had to reprimand her new servant for her violent temper and less than capable serving skills.

 

Gruesome: Builders unearthed a skull, believed to solve a 131-year-old riddle, in globe-trotter Sir David Attenborough's garden

On the evening of Sunday, March 2, Mr s Thomas returned from an evening service at the chapel. She found Webster had been drinking and a row ensued. The drunken servant girl was unable to contain herself and during the course of the argument she pushed her employer down the stairs.

She ran down after her, and seeing that Mrs Thomas appeared to be badly hurt, she decided to strangle her.

What happened next is like something out of a horror film. For the next 24 hours, Webster cut up the body of Mrs Thomas and boiled the pieces in a big copper pan.

Why she decided to boil the pieces is not clear, but it is likely she was hoping to disintegrate the flesh. She was unsuccessful and her attempts to burn the body parts also failed.

At this point , Katherine Webster decided that the only way to dispose of the body was to parcel it up and throw it in the Thames.

She placed the pieces in a box, and put the box into a large black bag. Then she assumed Mrs Thomas's identity.

On the late afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, she walked to her friends the Porters, whom she had not seen for months, and told them that she was now called Mrs Thomas and that her aunt had left her a house in Richmond.

Webster asked Mr Porter if he knew of an agent who could sell the house for her.

A little later, Webster, Mr Porter and his teenage son Robert went for a drink at a nearby pub. Robert carried the black bag, and it sat under the table while the three had ales.

Then Webster left  -  saying that she had to quickly see someone. When she returned, Porter saw that she no longer had the bag.

In fact, she had thrown it off Hammersmith Bridge.

Webster's greed knew no bounds. As well as trying to sell her victim's house, she also attempted to sell all its contents.

A man called John Church offered her £68 for some of the furniture, and she took £18 as a down-payment  -  insisting it be in cash or gold.

However, Webster was worried her crime would soon be discovered, and on or around March 18 she fled back to County Wexford.

Back in London, John Church began to grow suspicious and tracked down a friend of the real Mrs Thomas, who informed him that she was in fact in her 50s  -  and was most certainly not in her 30s with an Irish accent.

Church informed the police and, with evidence from Church and the Porters, they quickly put the puzzle together. On the 25th, Webster was arrested and detained at Clerkenwell prison.

At her trial that April, huge crowds thronged around the Central Criminal Court in London. Webster was found guilty, although she denied the murder.

She finally confessed the night before she was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on July 29.

What she never admitted was the location of Mrs Thomas's head, a secret which she took to her death at the end of the long rope.

Now, thanks to the unwitting help of Sir David Attenborough, the case can be finally closed.

 

 

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