Renovation work at Wadham College was brought to a dramatic halt when builders unearthed a pair of skeletons within the college grounds.
The news, which would be at home in the works of Colin Dexter, saw police officers descend on the college, cordoning off the area around the college’s Elephant Gate as a potential crime scene. The builders were carrying out restoration work in the area when they stumbled across the remains. Suspicions were piqued, in particular, by the fact that an empty bullet casing was found nearby the day before the bones were unearthed.
Inspection of both the casing and the skeletons, however, has revealed that they date from rather different periods. The bullet appears to be relatively modern; the unearthed bones seem to be closer in age to the buildings that surrounded them. The first skeleton was found on Wednesday 23 January lying intact, as if it had been buried in a coffin. To great surprise, a second set of bones was discovered just the day after. Having consulted with archaeologists, Wadham Warden Ken MacDonald sent an email to students of the college explaining:
“The current view from the archaeologist is that the human remains are two burials, probably from the time when the site was part of the precinct of the medieval Austin Friary. As the contractor has to dig a deeper trench, the archaeologist is excavating, recording and removing the burials over the next few days. The removal of the burials is being undertaken sensitively, in line with archaeological procedures.”
The second finding has led the team of archaeologists to speculate that the old priory site could be larger than previously suspected. However, the team is ascertaining the identity of the first skeleton before considering the second. Until then, they are unwilling to comment on what the skeletons can tell us about the site. However unlikely it may be, if the study reveals that the bones are more recent that currently suspected a police investigation would inevitably follow.
This isn’t the first time Wadham College has unearthed skeletons within its grounds. In the past, remains belonging to a monk have been excavated, and bones initially believed to be those of a small baby were later found to belong to a dog. Of course, we can be confident that no skeletons lurk within the SCR’s cupboards; it remains unclear if the same can be said for the college’s grounds.