Could this be the skeleton of a Bronze Age king?

Scientists may be on the verge of solving the mystery of a 4,000-year-old skeleton discovered on farmland near Westbourne in the 1980s.

The skeleton – known as Racton Man because of where he was found – is among only a handful of Bronze Age skeletons to have been found buried with a dagger.

This could suggest that the man was a special person such as a king or a priest. The dagger might have been used for a ritual purpose, such as sacrifice.

The lack of a post-excavation budget meant that no follow up work was ever carried out on the skeleton or the dagger. Now, the Novium museum in Chichester – which has the skeleton in its collection – has been awarded a £1,980 grant to undertake detailed scientific analysis on the skeleton.

The skeleton of 'Racton Man' - copyright the Novium museum in Chichester

Scientists may be on the verge of solving the mystery of a 4,000-year-old skeleton discovered on farmland near Westbourne in the 1980s.

The skeleton – known as Racton Man because of where he was found – is among only a handful of Bronze Age skeletons to have been found buried with a dagger.

This could suggest that the man was a special person such as a king or a priest. The dagger might have been used for a ritual purpose, such as sacrifice.

The lack of a post-excavation budget meant that no follow up work was ever carried out on the skeleton or the dagger. Now, the Novium museum in Chichester – which has the skeleton in its collection – has been awarded a £1,980 grant to undertake detailed scientific analysis on the skeleton.

An expert from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London (UCL) will conduct an anatomical study on the skeleton, and radiocarbon dating will be carried out at the National Museum Scotland.

Researchers hope to discover the age, height and diet of the skeleton. Details about the individual’s social status, regional or national origins, and how he died, could also be revealed.

The grant was awarded by the South Downs National Park Authority’s Sustainable Communities Fund.

The Novium museum’s collections officer, Amy Roberts, said: “The precise character of the dagger makes it remarkable at a national level.

“Bronze Age specialists have suggested that certain distinguishing features of the dagger could mean it represents the transitional phase from the Copper Age to the Early Bronze Age (c2,200–2,100 BC).

“Racton Man really is a bit of a mystery man at the moment. We are excited to find out anything more that we can about him.”

James Kenny, Chichester District Council’s archaeology officer, who was part of the original team who excavated the site, said: “Potentially, this scientific analysis will help us to understand who this man was. It is special that he was buried with a dagger, as this would have been an extremely early and rare use of metal.

“We can speculate about who this man was – was he a king or a priest? Was the dagger used for a special purpose such as sacrifices?”

The project will conclude with an exhibition in September.

To find out more about the Novium museum, click here.

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