Site Code: TOW96
Grid reference: SE 483 394

Towton is close to Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. The Battle of Towton was one of the bloodiest battles during the Wars of the Roses, and was fought on Palm Sunday 1461. A mass grave, located approximately one mile from the battle site, was excavated in 1996. The Towton population represents the nearly complete remains of 37 individuals who had received a variety of peri-mortem weapon injuries, as well as had sustained a series of other ante-mortem (healed) injuries. Their recovery as individuals, rather than as disarticulated bones, from the mass grave makes them a unique resource to study peri-mortem weapon injuries and the physical effects of participation in medieval battle.

Towton 25

Age: Old Middle Adult (36 - 45 years)
Sex: Male
Burial position: Being buried within the mass grave, the upper portion of the body was positioned on the right side and the lower portion was prone. The right upper limb was extended at a right angle to the body; the left upper limb lay along the left side, parallel to the body; the whole being orientated southeast-northwest.

Pathology: This individual had multiple peri-mortem injuries and a single ante-mortem lesion to the cranium. Peri-mortem sharp force trauma was present on the left mandible, which resulted in the loss of the left canine and first premolar; a series of three shallow blade injuries above the left orbit, possibly the result of blade skips; a shallow blade injury on the posterior right parietal; and a diagonal sharp force trauma in the left parietal. A large blade wound bisected the face, running from the lateral edge of the left orbit to the maxillary right canine; and a large horizontal sharp force trauma was present across the occipital bone, with large radiating fractures running from the lateral ends of the injury around the cranium and also inferiorly through the external occipital protuberance. In addition, there was a well-healed depression fracture on the left parietal, approximately 25mm in diameter.

Towton 925 posterior cranium
Image 1:
Posterior view of cranium showing sharp force trauma (blade injury) crossing the occipital, with multiple radiating fractures.

Towton 25 cranial trauma recording form
Image 2:
Detailed recording form showing cranial trauma. Produced by Shannon Novak during the analysis of the remains.

References: Fiorato, V., Boylston, A., and Knüsel, C.J. (eds.) 2000. Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from Towton, AD 1461. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Fiorato, V., Boylston, A., and Knüsel, C.J. (eds.) 2007. Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from Towton, AD 1461. Oxford: Oxbow Books. (2nd edn.)

Last Updated:01 May 2012