Mystery surrounding Roman baby remains deepens


New research into the remains of 97 babies discovered in what was thought to be a Roman brothel in Buckinghamshire has questioned the theory that the brothel’s occupants committed infanticide to rid themselves of unwanted offspring. The newborn infants were originally excavated from the remains of a lavish Roman villa complex in Buckinghamshire around 100 years ago, but were rediscovered packed in cigarette cases in a museum storeroom in 2008. However, Brett Thorn, keeper of archaeology at the Buckinghamshire County Museum, has disputed the brothel theory on the grounds that the villa was too far away from major population centres. Thorn has proposed instead that the villa had associations with a series of mother goddess cults from around the world, and may have been the site of a shrine where women went to give birth. This, he believes, is supported by the discovery of cut marks in one of the bones, which could indicate ritual practices, the de-fleshing of bones before burial, or the dismembering of a baby during childbirth to save the life of the mother.

A full discussion of the new research and DNA results will feature on the new series of Digging for Britain on BBC Two, which starts the first week in September

Peter the Wild Boy may have had rare genetic condition

Analysis of portraits of Peter the Wild Boy, the feral child brought back to England from Germany by George I in 1725, suggests that Peter had a rare genetic condition known as Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, says Lucy Worsley, curator of Historic Royal Palaces. Peter was unable to walk or talk and disliked wearing clothes, but became a firm favourite at Kensington Palace where he was treated like a “human pet”. Worsley, together with Professor Phillip Beales of the Institute of Child Health, believes that Peter’s short stature; thick curly hair; hooded eyelids; pronounced curve on his upper lip; and fusing on his left hand all point to Pitt-Hopkins, a condition only identified in 1978.

Bravery of British ‘Schindler’

Reverend Hugh Grimes, a Church of England vicar working at Christ Church in Vienna during the Second World War, has been credited with helping save the lives of up to 1,800 Austrian Jews in 1938. Reverend Grimes baptised hundreds of Jews in the hope that their baptism certificates would help them escape the country. The church ledgers reveal an increase in baptisms after 23 July 1938: the date the Jewish identity card was introduced.

England’s western-most Roman town unearthed

The discovery of nearly 100 Roman coins under fields just west of Exeter in Devon has led to the discovery of a Roman town further west than it was ever believed Romans had settled in England. A geophysical survey conducted last summer has indicated the existence of at least 13 round-houses, quarry pits, and track-ways covering at least 13 fields, making the find the first of its kind for the county, according to Danielle Wootton, the University of Exeter’s liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. A trial excavation has already uncovered evidence of two burial plots along the settlement’s main road, which Wootton believes could be the first signs of a Roman cemetery.

Marco Polo “never went to China”

A team of Italian archaeologists has claimed that 13th-century Venetian explorer Marco Polo was a conman who probably never travelled further east than the Black Sea. According to Professor Daniele Petrella of the University of Naples, research into Polo’s writings has revealed inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Polo’s descriptions of Kublai Khan’s invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281. The team suspects that Polo may have picked up many of his stories of the Orient from fellow traders around the Black Sea.

Book claims Wallis Simpson never wanted to marry Edward

A new book by Anne Sebba has claimed that Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee famous for having been the woman behind the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, in fact never wanted to marry the king. The book, That Woman: The Life Of Wallis Simpson, Duchess Of Windsor, alleges Wallis never lost her affection for her second husband, Ernest, and claims that Edward suffered for years from undiagnosed anorexia nervosa.

That Woman: The Life Of Wallis Simpson, Duchess Of Windsor by Anne Sebba, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is available from 31 August

Ancient dog skull found in Siberia

A 33,000-year-old canine skull discovered in a Siberian cave shows some of the earliest evidence of dog domestication to date, according to a Russian-led international team of archaeologists. The study, which is published in the journal Plos One, states that although the skull’s snout is similar in size to fully domesticated Greenland dogs from 1,000 years ago, its large teeth resemble those of 31,000-year-old wild European wolves. This, says the team, indicates a dog in the early stages of domestication.

Tribunal into Bangladesh war of independence adjourned

A tribunal to investigate atrocities carried out during the Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan in 1971 has been adjourned following a request by defence lawyers. Charges were due to be brought against many from the Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, including accusations of mass murder and rape. It is estimated that more than three million people were killed and thousands of women raped when West Pakistan sent in its army to intervene in East Pakistan’s (later Bangladesh) struggle for independence 40 years ago.


Private box for sale – only £550,000

A private box at the Royal Albert Hall has gone on sale for £550,000. The box – the only one of its kind in the hall to retain its original timber veneer and mirrored panels – has around 865 years left of its original 999-year lease. Queen Victoria paid £100 for 20 of the 1,300 seats when the building was constructed in 1871.