Analysis of the skull, found in southern England in the 1960s, showed that at the time of her death the young woman was between 15 and 18 years old.
A recent archaeological study led by University College London (UK) has shed light on the roots of the brutal punishments used against criminals in early medieval England.
To date, the first documented case of formal facial mutilation in Anglo-Saxon England dates back to the 10th century AD.
However, the analysis of remains found in the 1960s during excavations in the town of Basingstoke, in southern England, showed that this form of punishment already existed a century before.
This is a skull believed to have belonged to a young woman between the ages of 15 and 18, which has' evidence of facial mutilation in the form oftotal removal of the nose and partial removal of the upper lip, with possibly torn frontal hair ». Using radiocarbon dating, the team dated the remains to between AD 776 and 946. C.
"This case appears to be the first archaeological example of this particularly brutal form of facial disfigurement known in Anglo-Saxon England," noted the authors of the study (not yet peer-reviewed), published in the journal Antiquity.
The circumstances of death
Scientists are inclined to believe that the girl suffered the injuries shortly before her death, although they do not exclude the possibility that the wounds could be partially or completely inflicted after death, while the bone was still fresh.
In the absence of other parts of the skeleton, investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of death.
'Since only the skull was recovered, it is possible that the head was removed from the body as part of the punishment, perhapsfor the purpose of displaying it, as evidenced in other parts of Anglo-Saxon England, ”the authors noted.
Textual sources on the Anglo-Saxon judicial and punitive system indicate that head mutilation as punishment is limited to very specific circumstances. Marks found on Basingstoke's skull indicate that the young woman may have been an adulteress or a slave accused of theft.