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Skulls from ancient London suggest ritual decapitations

River finds may be remains of head-hunting victims or of defeated gladiators

MARKED FOR DEATH  Among the skull remains that researchers have connected to ritual decapitations in Roman London is this lower jaw with a wound, shown in close-up, that was caused by a sharp-edged weapon.

Rare evidence of ritual beheadings in ancient Roman-controlled London comes from three dozen human skulls bearing an array of serious wounds, scientists say.

Decapitated heads were placed in closely spaced pits along Walbrook Stream, a tributary of the Thames River, say biological anthropologist Rebecca Redfern of the Museum of London and forensic anthropologist Heather Bonney of the Natural History Museum in London.

Damage from clubs, knives and other weapons suggests that the skulls came from victims of head-hunting by Roman soldiers or from mortally wounded gladiators who fought in a nearby amphitheater, Redfern and Bonney report January 10 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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