Revealed: Racton Man was Bronze Age warrior chief

A quarter of a century after his skeleton was discovered on West Sussex farmland, 'Racton Man' has been revealed as an important warrior chief of the Bronze Age

'Racton Man' – copyright The Novium museum

A 4,000-year-old Bronze Age skeleton found buried with a rare dagger is thought to have been an early tribal ruler who died in combat.

Analysis of Racton Man’s teeth, bones and dagger, carried out by the London Institute of Archaeology, has revealed he was six foot tall, aged 45 when he died, and could have been brought up in southern Britain. Researchers have concluded he died more than 4,000 years ago, sometime in the period 2300-2150 BC.

‘Racton Man’ – nicknamed after the discovery of his skeleton in the hamlet of Racton, near Chichester, West Sussex in 1989 – was found buried with an extremely rare and valuable dagger. This is thought to be one of the earliest bronze artefacts in the UK, and is one of only seven ornate rivet studded daggers ever to have been discovered.

James Kenny, Chichester District Council's archaeologist, described the results as "staggering".

“The fact that this man had a bronze dagger would have been phenomenally rare then – let alone now,” he said.

“This would have been right at the start of the introduction of this type of technology and would have been one of the first bronze daggers in existence in this country.”

Racton Man – who researchers believe was probably a tribal leader from the very beginning of the Bronze Age – was found to be displaying signs of spinal degeneration, likely due to his age. Researchers also believe he suffered from a chronic sinus infection, as well as tooth decay.

Wounds found on his upper arm, sustained around the time of his death and which never healed, suggest he died in battle. Racton Man’s injuries are believed to be consistent with the arm being raised during fighting.

Although less certain, there is also evidence of a similar blow having struck the lower part of the right shoulder, under the armpit. A sharp force blow to this area of the body would have been consistent with a double strike – one to the head, blocked by the raised right arm, and a second deep into the armpit, presumably to sever the major blood vessels in this area.

Racton Man is now on display at The Novium museum in Chichester, which is run by Chichester District Council.

Cllr Myles Cullen, cabinet member for commercial services, said he was “fascinated” by the results.

“To think that we can discover such detail about a man who died more than 4,000 years ago, while learning more about the country’s history, is just incredible.

“We can’t wait to welcome people to the museum to find out more about this project and to see the Racton Man on display.”

Written by Gemma Davies

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