Beachy Head Lady Facts & Worksheets

Beachy Head Lady facts and information plus worksheet packs and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 years old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

Beachy Head Lady Worksheets

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    • Eastbourne Ancestors Project
    • Findings about the Beachy Head Lady
    • Implication of the Eastbourne Ancestors Project’s findings on Black British history

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s find out more about the Beachy Head Lady!

    Forensic facial reconstruction of the Beachy Head Lady

    The Eastbourne Ancestors Project, which began in 2012, discovered the well-preserved human skeletal remains of a young adult female among the collection of the Eastbourne Borough Council’s Heritage Service. Later dubbed as the Beachy Head Lady, the remains underwent several scientific analysis and investigations including forensic facial reconstruction. It was found that she had lived during the Roman period in southeast England. The Beachy Head Lady was exhibited to the public for the first time in 2014. She was thought to be of sub-Saharan African descent but this was challenged by a DNA analysis that established her as Southern European.

    Eastbourne Ancestors Project

    • In 2012, the Eastbourne Ancestors Project was born when the Eastbourne Borough Council’s Heritage Service had received a grant of around £73,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It sought to examine 306 human skeletal remains from a variety of sites which had been in the Heritage Service’s collection for many years. This was the first time that an extensive analysis had been undertaken on one collection in the UK.

    What the project hoped to discover about the skeletal remains

      • Sex and health
      • Age and stature
      • Social status
      • Cause of death
      • Health and diet 
      • Regional or national origins
    • The Eastbourne Ancestors Project accepted volunteer training and participation. In fact, several academic institutions participated in the project, including Bournemouth, Kent and Durham universities, which supplied undergraduate students and postgraduate students as interns.
    • Many aspiring volunteers flooded the heritage office with enquiries. A diverse team, affectionately called ‘The Bone Crew’, was organised over six months.
    • The project had over 300 volunteers, many of whom underwent necessary training. Some were part of the Bone Crew who cleaned and sorted thousands of bones, and sieved tonnes of earth to check for artefacts.
    • Other volunteers worked as excavation assistants or in organising the project’s exhibition.
    • Over 18 months, osteoarchaeologist and project coordinator Hayley Forsyth carried out the analysis of the remains with assistance from volunteers and interns. Schools, colleges and the public were invited to a temporary lab set up in Eastbourne Town Hall.

    Findings about the Beachy Head Lady

    • The Eastbourne Ancestors Project was able to uncover the stories of the human skeletal remains in the Heritage Service’s collection after thousands of hours of scientific analysis, investigation, planning and 3D reconstruction.
    • The remains came primarily from two main Anglo-Saxon cemeteries that were excavated. While others were excavated way back in the 1890s, the majority of them were dug out between 1992 and 1996.
    • Two boxes in the collection had the labels ‘Beachy Head, something to do with 1956 or 1959’ and ‘English Heritage’. They contained a very well-preserved human skeleton. Initial inspection from the osteoarchaeologist found that the skeleton was a young adult female.
    • As there was not much available information aside from the labels, she was dubbed the Beachy Head Lady and was further investigated to determine the exact location of the discovery of her remains.

    How were the human skeletal remains analysed?

    • The guidelines recommended by the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, the Institute for Archaeologists and English Heritage were followed in analysing the collection of remains.
      1. To determine the grade of preservation, percentage completeness, age, sex, stature, metrics, non-metric traits and pathological lesions, the skeletal remains were macroscopically examined.
      2. An osteological assessment was completed, so was the weighing of the cremated bone and recoding of the fragment size and colour.
      3. Skeletal remains had to be cleaned using soft brushes and cold water, then dried at room temperature away from direct sunlight and heat. Soil debris that had gathered in the storage were removed.
      4. Some of the skeletal remains were re-bagged and re-boxed with the labels available and packed with acid-free tissue paper to lessen the damage to the bones. Packing materials were also updated.
      5. An inventory of the skeletal material was created using both tabular and pictorial forms.
      6. Dentition was used to estimate age at death in adults and subadults. Bone development and fusion rates were also consulted.
      7. In conjunction to analysis of dimorphic traits of the pelvis and skull, metrical analysis was used to determine the biological sex in adults.
      8. For adult and subadult remains that were preserved and complete, measurements were taken.
      9. To calculate the stature, complete and unbroken long bones were measured.
      10. Since the subadult remains had not developed through puberty, they did not undergo analysis of biological sex and stature.

    What did the analysis reveal about the Beachy Head Lady?

    • The Beachy Head Lady was also found to be had been born or at least grown up from an early age locally in Eastbourne.
    • She suffered a variety of traumas including a severe bruising of the bone but not a break on the right femur, some tooth decay, absent wisdom teeth and a partially blocked jugular foramen.
    • There was not much evidence to determine her social status.
    • The Beachy Head Lady was one of the three skeletal remains that underwent forensic facial reconstruction by Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee.
    • To achieve this, a laser scan of her skull produced a 3D print using a resin substance. A mould was made of this and the soft tissue layers were added by hand in clay to create a bust model. Paint, glass eyes and a wig, which reflected the traits of the Beachy Head Lady were then added.
    • The Eastbourne Ancestors Project resulted in an exhibition in front of the Redoubt Fortress at Eastbourne’s seafront on Royal Parade throughout 2014. The facial reconstruction of the Beachy Head Lady, as well as her complete skeletal remains, were displayed. Interest in the exhibition increased rapidly with the media creating a lot of attention.

    Implication of the Eastbourne Ancestors Project’s findings on Black British history

    • The findings about the Beachy Head Lady reveal a bigger story about the people moving around the Roman Empire and have transformed previous understanding of Roman Britain and the presence of Black people in it.

    The first Black people in Roman Britain (43-410 CE)

    • At its peak, the Roman Empire was the most powerful political and social structure in western history.
    • Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome, and the Roman Empire lasted until the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was toppled by the Germanic King Odoacer in the west.

      Illustration of the landing of the Romans on the coast of Kent
    • Rome had been conquering the Mediterranean Sea for decades before it set its sights northward across the Alps towards Gaul and then finally across the channel into Britain. 
    • Britain was first invaded by Caesar in 55/54 BCE and, following Claudius’ invasion in 43 CE, part of Britain became a Roman province in name. 
    • The Roman conquest of Britain, which proved to be a lengthy process, resulted in the migration of numerous troops and administrators, merchants as well as women and children from many parts of the Empire including North Africa and Europe.
    • In the period that Britain became the Roman Province of Britannia, the total number of people who migrated to the province was not recorded and was hard to estimate. 
    • By the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, the first African people arrived in Britain as troops in the Roman armies, who then rebuilt and stationed along Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, they were under the command of Septimus Severus, a Black Roman Emperor based in York.
    • Evidence implies that the populations in major urban and military areas were diverse and locals and incomers were able to intermarry.
    • People with African heritage travelled to Britain particularly because of their links to the Roman army. 
    • The initial discovery that the Beachy Head Lady was of sub-Saharan African descent made her the first black Briton known to have lived and died in England, particularly in rural East Sussex. This also suggests that people from beyond the North African Roman border were also present in England in this period. 
    • In 2021, the Beachy Head Lady was relocated to the recently renovated ‘Beachy Head Story’ visitor centre, closer to where she was excavated. A DNA analysis challenged the conclusion that the Beachy Head Lady was of sub-Saharan African descent and instead established that the place of her ancestry is in Southern Europe, most likely Cyprus.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Who is the Beachy Head Lady?

      The Beachy Head Lady refers to the skeleton of a woman discovered at Beachy Head, a chalk cliff on the south coast of England. The skeleton was unearthed in 1953 during cliff erosion and is believed to be over 2,000 years old.

    • Why is the Beachy Head Lady famous?

      The Beachy Head Lady gained fame because her well-preserved skeleton from the Late Iron Age in southern England provides valuable information about her age, sex, and diet.

    • Where did the Beachy Head Lady come from?

      The exact origin or specific ethnic background of the Beachy Head Lady is difficult to determine based on the available evidence. However, based on archaeological analysis, it is believed that she lived in the region of southern England where her remains were found.