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A hairy mystery

Ancient hair found in coffin may once have belonged to a saint

By WITW Staff on April 25, 2016

Recent testing of a full head of human hair, first uncovered in 1839 by gravediggers at Romsey Abbey in Hampshire near England’s southern coast, has set off speculation that the hair might once have belonged to one of the abbey’s patron saints. The hair, shaped as though it were still sitting on a head — complete with a plait several inches long — is covered in white bits that archaeologists say are the remains of the scalp.

Testing of the hair was initiated by Jamie Cameron, a 23-year-old archaeological scientist, who first encountered the hair in a display case at age 7, when his class visited the abbey as part of a school trip. Tests performed at Oxford University’s “Relics Cluster” found that the owner of the hair died in the mid- to late-Saxon era — somewhere between 895 and 1123. They also found that the person’s diet was mostly fish, and that the hair had been covered in pine resin, either as part of living hair care, or as part of a funerary ritual. Frank Green, an archaeological advisor to the abbey, says the marine diet indicates the person was of the monastic community. But the fact that the grave was not a “focus of religious activity,” says Green, means the remains are unlikely to have belonged to a saint. Watch the BBC report on the mysterious hair below:

Read the full story at BBC News.