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This is a skull from an individual who fought at the Battle of Towton. The Battle of Towton took place on Palm Sunday 1461, during the height of the War of the Roses.  It is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles in English history.  A mass grave was excavated in 1996, located approximately one mile from the battle site in Towton, North Yorkshire. The excavations unearthed 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.  Recently, the trauma sustained to this skull was used as a comparison for the injuries inflicted on Richard III.


There are three perimortem blunt force injuries to the cranium. The first is a large sub-circular comminuted depressed fracture to the left parietal and temporal, measuring c.38.5mm at its greatest diameter, which penetrates the skull.  The ectocranial margins are sharp. Bevelling along the endocranial margin indicates the central fragments were inwardly displaced, of which only one fragment was recovered.  This fragment measures c. 29.5mm (superoinferior) x c.20.5mm (anteroposterior).  At the anteroinferior margin of the depression is a radiating fracture that runs anteroinferiorly onto the greater wing of the sphenoid.

The second blunt force injury is a comminuted fracture to the left supraorbital margin, with fracture lines measuring c. 28.5mm (mediolateral) x 17.5mm (anteroposteriorly).  The margins of this lesion are sharp and contain a small adherent flake adjacent to the greater sphenoid (the other bone flakes are lost post-mortem).

The third blunt force injury is a linear fracture of the left third molar and alveolar bone.  A fracture line runs anteroposterior through the lingual third of the crown and root (presumably the lingual third of the tooth was lost perimortem), which severed the apex of the lingual root.  There are two radiating fractures in the alveolus, one running mediosuperiorly and the other posterosuperiorly, both measuring c. 8.5mm.

Co-existing pathology

There are bilateral surface contour changes to the mandibular fossae and articular tubercles.  Sparse pitting also occurs on both articular tubercles.   These changes suggest early temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

Changes observed in cranial shape–flattening of the occipital on the left, bulging of the occipital on the right side, torsion of the sagittal axis, posteriorly placed ipsilateral ear—suggest positional plagiocephaly and torticollis. However, the extent of the changes cannot be gauged as the large blunt force injury on the left parietal and temporal may have caused instability of the cranium within the post-mortem environment.


There is blunt force trauma to the left mandibular corpus on the left side.  This is a butterfly fracture with post-mortem loss of the butterfly fragment.  A fracture line, which bisects the bone anteriorly and lingually, runs vertically from adjacent to the mental tubercle to between the first and second premolars.   Posterior to this is another fracture that bisects the bone, which runs diagonally from the posterior third of the corpus to the anterior margin of the third molar.   The margins are sharp and the bone shows peeling on the lingual and the anteroinferior surfaces.

Co-existing pathology

There is a deep healed sub-circular depression, measuring c. 8.5mm at its greatest diameter, at the inferior margin of the lingual surface of the corpus adjacent to the angle, which is located at the terminus of bone peeling from the aforementioned blunt force trauma.