Haslar Heritage Group

Rare Skeleton Unearthed

Rare skeleton of anti-slavery sailor dug up

An excavation of a former military hospital graveyard has unearthed an incredibly rare find.

The skeleton of one of the first sailors to join the movement to abolish slavery has been discovered in a dig at Royal Hospital Haslar in Gosport. It was found with coins in both eye sockets – an old Greek tradition in which the money was used to pay passage for travel to the underworld.

When discovered in a dig earlier this year the coins were so corroded that archaeologists were unable to tell what they said. But months of painstaking restoration work have revealed one is a medal featuring a kneeling slave engraved with the phrase ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ and the other is a halfpenny made in Gosport in 1794.

Archaeologists behind the dig believe the skeleton is that of one of the first abolitionists from Britain and it is one of only three such skeletons ever to have been discovered in the UK. Dr Andrew Shortland of Cranfield University, director of the excavation, said: ‘This is a very rare find and it’s unique at Haslar. We knew this was done, but it’s very unusual.

‘He would have been one of the first abolitionists, and the date on the coin has also given us the first date we’ve had too. ‘We know he have died after 1794, probably very soon after because these hand-made coins weren’t in circulation for very long.

‘We’ve never come across anything like this before. We’ve done some research and discovered that this is one of only three examples like this inmust the UK.’

A total of 29 skeletons were unearthed in the dig by Cranfield University, which is jointly behind the project with the Ministry of Defence. The team of 60 also discovered the skeleton of a man in his mid-20s, which has seven broken bones, a broken jaw and one side of his skull smashed. It is thought that up to 15,000 people – including many sailors and marines – are buried in the grounds of the hospital, dating back to 1753.

With thanks to the Portsmouth Evening News – Rod Dabrowski

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