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Gladiators' burial ground found in Britain

Archaeologists in Britain have found a burial ground of gladiators, the warriors of ancient Rome who used to fight animals and prisoners to entertain the rulers.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2010 13:55 IST

Archaeologists in Britain have found a burial ground of gladiators, the warriors of ancient Rome who used to fight animals and prisoners to entertain the rulers.

Dozens of skeletons found beneath the garden of a former 18th century mansion in York are probably those of professional fighters who fought, and died, for the entertainment of the ruling Romans.

Experts believe that the corpses are of robust young males, many of whom died by decapitation between the late first and fourth centuries AD. The remains of around 80 people were discovered during building work at a site to the west of the city centre in 2004, but their likely origins are only now being revealed after extensive forensic analysis, The Telegraph reported.

Researchers from the York Archaeological Trust, which is leading the probe, discovered tantalising evidence that the gladiators brought to Britain from across the Mediterranean to fight at an as-yet-undiscovered amphitheatre.

"One of the most significant items of evidence is a large carnivore bite mark - probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear - an injury which must have been sustained in an arena context," Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at the trust, said.

The majority of them had sustained brutal weapon injuries consistent with gladiatorial combat. Close scrutiny of the skeletons also showed that many of the dead had one arm that was stronger than the other - an indication that they had been trained to use large weapons from a young age.

Injuries on the skulls suggested that some of the men had been killed by a hammer blow to the head, a gladiatorial "coup de grace" for which evidence has also been uncovered at a major Roman graveyard in Ephesus, Turkey.

Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire, which helped analyse the bones, said: "These are internationally important discoveries. We don't have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world".

Amphitheatres have been discovered at several old Roman settlements across Britain earlier. Some amphitheatres were made from wood, meaning their locations may never be identified.