From the throne of England to storage

May 26, 2014

The fact that items can be put into storage containers and forgotten about for decades never fails to amaze us, but even more incredible is when it’s revealed that important historical finds have been locked away for years because someone’s neglected to leave documentation or records that they’re in the building.

It happens more often than you’d think, which is ridiculous really – you can’t imagine that when archaeologists discovered the remains of Richard III in 2013, they’d have put them in a box and forgotten about carbon-dating them or testing them to see if they were real. However, it turns out that the bones of another royal figure may have been languishing in a box because scientists didn’t realise who they might have come from.

King Alfred the Great, an Anglo-Saxon ruler who died in the year 899, was thought to have been buried in an unmarked grave, though scientists had failed to find any likely skeletal candidates at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Winchester. However, a pelvis bone that had been in storage at Winchester City Museum since its discovery in another excavation in the late 1990s (it hadn’t been analysed due to a lack of evidence about its historical significance and a lack of funding) was rediscovered, and carbon dating analysis has shown that it dates back to between 895-1017 and belonged to a man aged between 26 and 45 at the time of death.

Due to the time period the bone dates from, the age of the man they belonged to and the specific positioning of the bone, below what would have been the high altar of an abbey previously located on the site (historical record tells us that Alfred and his son, Edward, were buried there), the probability is that the bone comes from one of the two men, though this hasn’t yet been proved. If it turns out that it the bone is Alfred or Edward’s, it’ll have been an ignominious couple of decades for it.

In addition, nine of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient documents which date back more than two millenniums, have recently been rediscovered in an Israel Antiquities Authority storeroom after having been archived and forgotten about sixty years after they were originally found. Scientists now face the tricky task of unravelling them (they’re the size of pennies, which might have been a contributing factor in their misplacement) to see what they say.

You’d think that when archaeologists make a potentially important discovery, they’d follow it up and examine it, rather than putting it away and not doing anything with it. However, it just goes to show that everyone gets sidetracked and forgets what they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t make the same mistake with the things you have in storage – it’d be terrible if you lost potentially precious possessions because you forgot to pay your rent.

Posted in: Storage Miscellany