Fenstanton Parish Council

UK’s first example of Roman crucifixion found in Fenstanton

Crucified skeleton displayed
Crucified skeleton displayed

The first example of a Roman crucifixion in the UK has been found in Fenstanton.

Albion Archaeology discovered a large, previously unknown Roman roadside settlement in 2017 while carrying out an excavation in on behalf of Tilia Homes (previously Kier Living). Finding Roman burials on such a site is common, and this was no exception – yet one of the people buried at Fenstanton had been crucified.

Archaeologists investigating a previously unknown Roman roadside settlement, which includes five small cemeteries, discovered in one grave the remains of a man with a nail through his heel.

Only one previous example like this of crucifixion has been found worldwide, in Israel, although two possible instances have also been claimed in Italy and Egypt. However, the Fenstanton example is the best preserved.

The exciting discovery follows on from previous historically significant digs across Cambridgeshire in recent years which have uncovered preserved Bronze Age buildings and artefacts at Must Farm in Whittlesey, pristine prehistoric occupation sites and burial monuments in Needingworth Quarry, and new Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon settlements that emerged during the course of the recent A14 road improvement scheme around Cambridge.

The cemeteries and man who was crucified were discovered during excavations of two sites in advance of new housing developments by Tilia Homes (previously known as Kier Living) south of Cambridge Road, and by Morris Homes at the former Dairy Crest brownfield site. The excavations were led by David Ingham of Albion Archaeology.

Aerial photo of Cambridge Road site CREDIT-JJ Mac Ltd
Aerial photo of Cambridge Road site
CREDIT-JJ Mac Ltd

Osteologist (human bone specialist) Corinne Duhig from Wolfson College, Cambridge, said: “The lucky combination of good preservation and the nail being left in the bone has allowed me to examine this almost unique example when so many thousands have been lost.

“This shows that the inhabitants of even this small settlement at the edge of empire could not avoid Rome’s most barbaric punishment.”

Inside the cemeteries, 40 adults and five children were buried, with specialist study showing that some family groups were present. The Roman settlements, now fully excavated, also included a number of archaeologically significant artefacts.

The results of the excavation will be formally published when analysis of the site’s finds and evidence has been completed.

Speaking for Cambridgeshire County Council’s Historic Environment Team, archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec said: “These cemeteries and the settlement that developed along the Roman road at Fenstanton are breaking new ground in archaeological research.”

“Burial practices are many and varied in the Roman period and evidence of ante-or post-mortem mutilation is occasionally seen, but never crucifixion.”

“We look forward to finding out more when the results are published. Hopefully, there will be a museum exhibit to showcase the remains soon, and we are working to arrange this. We are grateful to the developers for funding these important investigations as part of their planning obligation.”

Fenstanton lies on the Via Devana, the road which linked the Roman towns at Cambridge and Godmanchester. While numerous Iron Age sites are known in the area, this roadside settlement appears to have been an essentially new Roman venture on the line of the road, covering at least 6 hectares and possibly situated at a crossroads. The presence of an early Anglo-Saxon grubenhaus or sunken-floored building points to some level of continued post-Roman habitation after the 4th century.

Support from Tilia Homes meant that the central, best-preserved part of the settlement was left undisturbed by the new housing development. The excavation focused on the enclosures around the edge, away from the domestic areas – though the footings of a large wooden building and traces of stone street or yard surfaces were found in the areas closest to the centre.

One of these enclosures contained large numbers of animal bones that suggest the presence of a large-scale industrial operation. Cattle bones were being split in such a way that large amounts of marrow and grease would have been released – for the manufacture of items such as soap or tallow for candles. The bones are likely to have come from a combination of cattle that were kept at Fenstanton, as well as carcasses that were imported from a nearby Roman town specifically for specialist butchers to process them here.

The excavation also revealed a number of Roman graves, mostly clustered into small cemeteries – the size of household cemetery plots, though DNA evidence identified surprisingly few family groupings. Analysis of the skeletons has revealed that the mostly adult population suffered from a large number of injuries and illnesses. None of the graves appeared remarkable during excavation – but while one of the skeletons was being washed back at the lab, it was found to have a nail through its heel.

Crucifixion nail in heel after washing#2

The skeleton was that of a man aged roughly 25–35, with signs of poor dental health and arthritis that were common among many of the people buried here. There were also signs of thinning on his lower legs, which may have been caused by infection or inflammation or perhaps by local irritation from being bound or shackled.

Twelve nails that were found around the skeleton suggest that he had been placed on a board or a bier (probably not in a coffin), but the 13th had passed horizontally through his right heel bone (calcaneum). It seems implausible that the nail could have been accidentally driven through the bone during construction of the timber support on which the body was placed – indeed, there are even signs of a shallow second hole that suggests an unsuccessful first attempt to pierce the bone.

While this cannot be taken as incontrovertible proof that the man was crucified, it seems the only plausible explanation – making it at most the fourth example ever recorded worldwide through archaeological evidence. Crucifixion was relatively commonplace in Roman times, but the victims were often tied to the cross rather than nailed, and if nails were used then it was routine to remove them afterwards. Only one other example has been found with a nail surviving in situ through the bone, discovered at Giv‘at ha-Mivtar in north Jerusalem during building work in 1968; skeletons with a similar hole have also been found at Gavello in Italy and at Mendes in Egypt, but without a nail in place and with doubt over how the holes had been formed.

The remarkable fact about this skeleton is not that the man was crucified, but that his body was reclaimed after death and given a formal burial alongside others, leaving us with this extremely rare evidence of what had happened to him.

An iron nail penetrated his right heel bone (calcaneum) horizontally, consistent with crucifixion. His feet would have been nailed to the sides of an upright timber.

In life he had suffered from poor health and injury, and his ankles may have been shackled. The victim may have been a slave.

This is the best physical evidence for a crucifixion in the Roman world – the only instance from northern Europe and the fourth reported worldwide. No nails are associated with two of the others, and plant roots may have caused the holes. Previously unique is a heel bone excavated in Israel in 1968, with a nail in the same position as the new find. It was less well preserved and was reburied, and there has been controversy about the find.

The grave was in a small cemetery, one of five around a newly discovered Roman settlement at Fenstanton, between Roman Cambridge and Godmanchester.

The site of crucifixion is unknown, but is likely to have been elsewhere, probably beside a road.

The man’s bones have been radiocarbon dated to between AD130 and 360. Constantine, acclaimed emperor in York (306–337), is thought to have banned crucifixion, so the man likely died between 130 and 337.

The nail was not seen until conservation occurred off site. Prolonged analysis by Corinne Duhig, archaeologist at the University of Cambridge who examined the human remains from Fenstanton, established crucifixion as the only likely explanation. Signs of punitive injuries and immobilisation before and around the time of death, says Duhig, suggest the victim may have been a slave.

Romans reserved crucifixion for condemned slaves, rebels and lower classes. Cicero was among writers who criticised the cruel practice, designed to prolong an agonising death.

Crucifixion nails are thought to be so rare because:

  • Crucified people would not often have received proper burial.
  • Crucifixion was often done with rope.
  • Nails would have been recycled for their metal value, and may also have been collected for perceived magical properties.

The exact location of the crucifixion is not being disclosed to respect the privacy of the current homeowner.


A detailed article on the excavation can be found in the British Archaeology magazine


Two initiatives this Winter you may find of benefit

Greener travel in Cambridgeshire – have your say

The Greater Cambridge Partnership’s consultation on proposals to improve the way in which people travel around our area is now underway.

‘Making Connections: have your say on greener travel in Greater Cambridge’ asks for people’s thoughts on proposals to transform public transport, improve cycling and walking and reduce pollution and congestion. The proposals are of interest to everyone who lives in or travels to Greater Cambridge, whether for work, education or leisure.

The consultation sets out three main areas on which we’d like to hear people’s thoughts.

  • A new bus network: At the heart of the proposals is an expanded and transformed bus network, offering more frequent services, with longer operating hours, more rural connections, and new routes into our growing employment sites.
  • Funding transport improvements: A new public transport network will need funding and lower congestion to run. There are two main ways to free up road space and raise money to invest in better bus services and more cycling and walking infrastructure – a road charging zone, or additional parking charges. We’d like to hear what people think about these.
  • Better cycling and walking routes and high quality public spaces: lower traffic levels would create more opportunities to improve routes for people cycling and walking. Lower traffic levels and better air quality would also create more opportunities to provide high quality public spaces for people to enjoy.

Full information about the consultation – including a range of public events the GCP is holding to talk about these proposals – can be found online at https://www.greatercambridge.org.uk/making-connections-2021.

Please note that the consultation closes at midday on Monday 20 December 2021.

Flooding in Fenstanton – new website section launched

Following last year’s flooding in Fenstanton, you Parish Council has undertaken extensive investigation into the causes and, working with a wide variety of agencies and organisations, looked at how we can take steps to minimise the impact of future events.

A new section of the Parish Council website commenting on our findings, recommendations, who to contact and what we can do, as a community and as individuals, has been launched.



Latest newsletter – Nov 2021

Fenstanton Community Hero Award – 2020/21

Jean Ding

Jean receives her award from Cllr Roy McGee

Your Parish Council is delighted to award this year’s Community Hero Award to Jean Ding.

Jean has been an inspiration. Throughout the pandemic she has collected and sold a wide variety of books, plants, jigsaws, toys, as well as more unusual items, including a set of spark plugs!, from a stall outside her house.

As well as providing a focal point for the community, she has raised the amazing amount of £6,600 for some 34 charities.

Well done Jean… and thank you.


Supporting comments include:

Throughout the period of the pandemic Jean has selflessly run a charity stall outside her house in Bell Lane. Not only has the stall been a place where people can browse the various items donated for sale such as jigsaw puzzles, books, children’s toys, and local craftwork etc, it has also been a place where villagers could pass the time of day and keep in touch during what could have been, for many, a very lonely time. In addition to giving up her own time for the benefit of others, Jean managed to raise a very significant amount of funds for local and national charities. All this was carried out with Jean’s characteristic good humour and friendly chat. We are very lucky to have someone like Jean living in the village and we think that she is fully deserving of a Community Hero Award.

I would like to nominate JEAN DING for the Community Hero award for setting up her stall, working so hard and raising a fantastic amount of money. I doubt I will be alone in nominating Jean.

I was wondering if the parish council would look at doing a special award for Jean Ding. She has done amazing and a real community champion.

‘20’s plenty‘ and other traffic measures – your views count

Please complete the questionnaire


For further information on 20’s plenty, please see the attached

Flooding in Fenstanton

Would you be interested in joining a Fenstanton Community Flood Group?

In anticipation of the increased incidence of future flooding events, your Parish Council is looking to help establish a Fenstanton Community Flood Group.

We are keen to hear from any residents who would be interested in and willing to become part of this team.

If you are able to get involved, or would just like more information, please contact your Parish Council Clerk. clerk@fenstantonparishcouncil.org.uk 01480 465300, or use the comments section below.


Floodmobile Roadshow – St Ives – Saturday 13th November

Cambridgehire County Council is organising a ‘Floodmobile’ event in the Sheep Market on Market Hill, Saint Ives PE27 5AH, on Saturday 13th November from 10am to 3pm.

This is part of a roadshow of events are being hosted by the Ox-Cam PFR Pathfinder Project, in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, which are designed to help households and businesses located in areas that have previously seen flooding, receive expert advice onboard a special ‘Floodmobile’ – an interactive demonstration vehicle which provides examples of over 50 practical measures of flood resilience.

Renowned flood resilience expert and representative for Ox-Cam PFR Pathfinder Project Mary Dhonau OBE will talk to visitors and offer advice, alongside Fola Ogunyoye CEng CWEM FCIWEM, Director of TJAY Consultancy Ltd who has over two decades of expertise in providing flood risk, water and environmental management consultancy service. They will be joined by Matt Tandy, Principal Engineer at infrastructure consultancy, AECOM.


Latest newsletter from your Parish Council

Cambridgeshire County Council – travel to work survey

Employees can win a £50 Amazon voucher if they take part in Cambridgeshire County Council’s annual travel to work survey.

The survey helps Smart Journeys (a project co-led by the council which supports the delivery of sustainable travel) understand how residents across the county are travelling to work and how many days they are now working from home in a post-pandemic environment.

The survey asks employees travelling in and around Cambridgeshire how they travel to work during a typical one week period. The closing date to complete it was due to be Sunday, 24 October but has now been extended for another week to last until 31 October.

The survey takes approximately five minutes to complete and a summary of the results will be available for participants to download after the closing date. Data provided will also be used by Smart Journeys to help influence future transport decisions, include public transport improvements across the county.

The survey will also highlight a workplace grant scheme to help employers improve cycle security which may be a barrier to staff cycling to work. The scheme has been launched by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and is part of their programme of work to support sustainable modes of travel and reduce car use.

To take part in the survey, visit: https://bit.ly/3BSTUrW.