Dr Martin Smith has worked with the Museum of East Dorset to put the skeleton of an Iron Age man with tuberculosis on public display for the first time.
Archaeological excavations at Tarrant Hinton, Dorset, between 1967 and 1985 uncovered a variety of evidence for settlement between the Iron Age and the Roman period. Possibly the most significant discovery was the skeleton of an Iron Age man whose spine displayed signs of tuberculosis (TB).
The man, who died between 400 and 230 BC, is important as the earliest case of TB ever found in Britain. His skeleton is now on permanent display at the Museum of East Dorset after Dr Martin Smith, Principal Academic in Forensic and Biological Anthropology at Bournemouth University, worked with the team at the museum to present this internationally significant find to the public.
Dr Smith said: “I worked with the museum’s team of volunteers to assess the condition of the bones and to work with the excavation records to arrange this man's remains in the position in which he was originally buried.
"The Tarrant Hinton man was around 30 to 40 years old when he died and he had advanced TB in his spine which must have caused him pain. We designed a display that would focus on the abnormalities in his spine caused by the disease and the effects this would have had on his lived experiences.
“A particular point of note with this man is the extent of help and support he must have had from his community in order to survive, as the TB affected his mobility and functioning. This evidence of community caring gives an insight into an aspect of social life in Iron Age Dorset.”
Dr Smith also helped the museum team interpret the scientific results of recent isotope analysis in a way that can be easily understood by museum visitors. That chemical analysis, undertaken recently at the University of Southampton, answered some key questions about the man’s origins.
The results show that the man arrived in Dorset as a child, around the age of eight. His family came from an area of Carboniferous Limestone outside Britain; possibly South or West Ireland, the Atlantic coast of South West France, or in the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain.
Dr Smith said: “Dorset has many archaeological finds of national and international importance and our regional museums are great places to find out more about some of this work. Universities have a key role to play in supporting our regional museums by using our specialist expertise to analyse and interpret the finds.
"It has been great to be able to make the story of the Tarrant Hinton man accessible to all audiences and help museum visitors understand what life might have been like in Iron Age Britain.”
The Iron Age man with TB can be seen at the Museum of East Dorset in Wimborne. The museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic but you can find out more about the museum and its displays on the Museum of East Dorset website.