Forensic archaeoentomology—An insect fauna from a burial in York Minster

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Author's personal copy Forensic Science International 221 (2012) 125–130

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Forensic archaeoentomology—An insect fauna from a burial in York Minster Eva Panagiotakopulu a,*, Paul C. Buckland b a b

School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, United Kingdom 20 Den Bank Close, Crosspool, Sheffield S10 5PA, United Kingdom



Article history: Received 20 October 2011 Received in revised form 12 April 2012 Accepted 23 April 2012 Available online 1 June 2012

An insect fauna associated with the medieval burial of Archbishop Greenfield, interred in December 1315 in a lead coffin within a stone sarcophagus beneath the floor of York Minster, is examined and compared with the limited entomological data from other medieval burials. The implications of the archaeoentomological data are discussed. The fauna is dominated by the so-called coffin beetle Rhizophagus parallelocollis and the generalised staphylinid predator Quedius mesomelinus, together with a number of subterranean fungal feeders. The beetle assemblage is probably immediately post burial, and the lead coffin in the case of Greenfield had not been able to shield the body from decay. ß 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Forensic archaeoentomology Inhumation Insect fauna Medieval Rhizophagus parallelocollis

1. Introduction Forensic entomology has been used for investigating time and details of death, as well as other information relating to health and environmental conditions [1–5]. Critical examination of insect faunas from exhumed corpses began in the nineteenth century [6], although the recognition of the forensic potential of insects goes back much further [7]. Much of archaeology is essentially a forensic science [8,9], and excavation, as well as later study of finds from archaeological contexts should be treated forensically, if the maximum amount of information is to be derived from them. This approach is particularly important when dealing with human remains, which may still yield much new data long after excavation [10]. Sometimes even deciding whether the case is modern forensic or archaeological involves complications, as for example the initial finds from Lindow Moss in Cheshire, where the probability of the recovery of a murder victim created some confusion until radiocarbon dates confirmed that the head, body and later finds were of late Iron Age or early Roman date, although even that was not without controversy over the taphonomy and closer dating of the disposal of the bodies [11–13]. The archaeoentomological evidence was critical in the Lindow studies and the techniques employed were exactly as in forensic entomology, although overall, archaeoentomology has a much broader scope and deals with contexts ranging from natural and

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 131 650 2531; fax: +44 131 668 3184. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (E. Panagiotakopulu), [email protected] (P.C. Buckland). 0379-0738/$ – see front matter ß 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

immediate human environments to burials [14]. There has been relatively little entomological work from human or animal burials in archaeology [15,16], and Erzinc¸liog˘lu [17] has remarked on the lack of data from recently buried corpses. This is partly because, unless the insects are visible with the naked eye and seen by those excavating the burials, there is no incentive to undertake research. This paper discusses results from a single, well constrained archaeological context, that of a burial within a church, and provides additional data relevant to both forensic science and entomology. 2. Previous work In aerobic conditions, with the exception of bone and tooth, organic material is rapidly broken down, and preservation of insect remains, like that of body tissue, depends on anaerobic conditions in either wet or dry environments. The material of insect exoskeletons, chitin, however, is more robust than most tissue and may remain when only the bones of a burial survive. Preservation in permafrost, waterlogged or desiccated deposits has provided opportunities for entomological research in connection with burials. Lice have been recovered from Greenlandic and Inca mummies [18–20], and the biogeography of the human flea Pulex irritans Linnaeus and its probable South American origins [21], has similarly been added to from mummy finds [22]. Ectoparasite faunas are not restricted to humans and it is the cadaver of a mammoth in Siberia which provides the one evident extinction from the Palaearctic insect fauna during the late Quaternary, the mammoth botfly, Cobboldia rusanovi Grunin [23], which has disappeared along with its host. Decay faunas,

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particularly the calliphorid Protophormia terraenovae (RobineauDesvoidy), are known from a number of mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and bison [24–28]. Dipterous faunas from above the body of a mummified goat at Garden under Sandet, a farm abandoned in the fourteenth century in southwest Greenland, provide clues to conditions related to the death of the animal [29], whilst fly puparia from a Neolithic (Late Cycladic) burial in a pot from Santorini in the Aegean indicate that the infant bones found in the cooking pot represent the remains of a burial and not a redeposition of excarnated bones [30]. Although there are forensic studies of dipterous remains, there is very little research involving Coleoptera. A natural, mass burial of seals at Los Lobos in Patagonia revealed an assemblage with dipterous and coleopterous faunas, including the carrion-feeding clerid beetle Necrobia rufipes (DeGeer) [31]. It is, however, the faunas associated with human corpses which inevitably have most interest to forensic science. Exposure of bodies prior to inhumation as part of the funerary rite has been argued from archaeoentomological evidence from burials in Canada [15] and Peru [16]. In Greenland, although no bodies were recovered from the collapsed remains of the farm at Nipaatsoq, in the medieval Western Settlement, fly faunas imply the in situ death of the residents [32]. Faunas associated with medieval burials in Europe have been reported from London [33], Canterbury [34], Glasgow [35] and Hull [36,37], although the last is complicated by incorporation of older deposits in the graves. 3. Archbishop Greenfield The fauna from the lead-lined stone sarcophagus of Archbishop Greenfield (ob. 1315) in York Minster offers an unusual opportunity for the forensic archaeoentomology of a burial of an important individual in the history of medieval England. William Greenfield was a major figure in the politics of church and state in the early fourteenth century, serving as chancellor to Edward I before being elected Archbishop of York in 1304 [38,39]. He died on the 6th December 1315, at Cawood, a few kilometres down the river Ouse from York and was taken to the Minster for burial. His corpse, laid out in his ecclesiastical raiments, was interred in a lead coffin inside a stone sarcophagus placed beneath a canopied tomb framing an inscribed brass on a Purbeck Marble slab [40] in the north transept of the Minster. 4. Preservation—methodology The extensive civil engineering work carried out between 1966 and 1972 to stabilise the central tower of York Minster [41] inevitably led to the disturbance of archaeological deposits and the results of the excavations, directed by Derek Phillips, are being published in a series of monographs [42,43]. Preservation of organic materials in the deposits was poor and only in the anaerobic interior of well sealed sarcophagi or where metals had inhibited decay and/or replaced the materials directly, were biological materials present. Towards the end of the underpinning of the tower, the floor under the crossing and transepts was re-laid and this lead to the disturbance of the stone sarcophagus of Archbishop William Greenfield. The grave had previously been opened in 1735, when a gold finger ring had been removed from the body and this is now preserved in the Cathedral Treasury [44]. Disturbance of the grave allowed Derek Phillips to recover a small sample of the material in the coffin and part of the skull and about 200 ml of dark grey to black amorphous material, with evident fragments of thread, some gold foil wrapped, and insect remains, were recovered, and passed to one of the authors for examination. The material was broken down in warm water and washed out over a 300 mm mesh sieve. The residue retained on the

Fig. 1. Disarticulated skeletal part of beetles associated with the body of Archbishop Greenfield (ob. 1315) from York Minster. They include large numbers of abdominal tergites and sternites as well as heads, pronota and elytra, for example, (1–3) head, pronotum and left elytron of Quedius mesomelinus, (4) pronotum of Rhizophagus parallelocollis and (5) right elytron of Mycetaea subterranea.

Table 1 Insect remains from Archbishop Greenfield. Taxa Coleoptera Phyllodrepa floralis (Paykull) grp Quedius mesomelinus (Marsham) Aleocharinae indet. Rhizophagidae Rhizophagus parallelocollis Gyllenhal Cryptophagidae Cryptophagus sp. Endomycidae Mycetaea subterranea (Marsham) Diptera Phoridae indet. puparia Sphaeroceridae indet. puparia

1 16 8 25 1 2

24 4

sieve was sorted under a low power binocular microscope. The softer connective tissue tends to decay relatively rapidly after death and the fossil insects are identified largely by comparison of disarticulated individual sclerites, largely heads, pronota and elytra in the case of Coleoptera and puparia in that of Diptera (Fig. 1), with modern reference material. From this, a minimum number of individuals (MNI) can be obtained from the most abundant sclerite. Faunal remains (Table 1, Fig. 1) were identified using the collections in Doncaster Museum. Taxonomy follows Bo¨hme [45], and ecological data on species are summarised from Buckland and Buckland [46]. 5. Results The fauna from the burial is dominated by Rhizophagus parallelocollis Gyllenhal (Fig. 2). This beetle can be found under bark and on woodland margins [47,48], in gardens [49], and also in churchyards, graveyards and on tombstones [50,51], hence its common name, the graveyard or coffin beetle. Essentially probably subterranean, it has been recorded from pitfall traps set deep into the ground [52]. The rove beetle Quedius mesomelinus (Marsham) is found in rotting vegetation, fungi, under rotting bark, in wood, moss and detritus, and is also recorded underground in areas where animals are burrowing [48], where it thrives in foul

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Fig. 2. Specimens of Rhizophagus parallelocollis from the body of Archbishop Greenfield, York Minster. (1) Articulated pronotum and head with eyes, and 1st antennal segment, (2) pronotum, (3) articulated pronotum and head with eyes and mandibles, (4 and 5) two right elytra.

residues, probably feeding principally on maggots. In Northern Europe, as for example in Greenland [53] and Iceland [54], it is strongly synanthropic, but it has also been recorded as a predator in carrion, nests and in rotting trees, essentially anywhere there is an abundance of insect prey [55–57]. The adults of another rove beetle in the sample, Phyllodrepa floralis (Paykull) (grp), are associated with flowers, but probably breed in plant litter and animal dung; it has also been recorded from carrion [58]. Another beetle in the assemblage associated with man-made habitats, as well as rotten wood, is Mycetaea subterranea (Fabricius) (=hirta Marsham). It can be found in or near barns in straw or hay residues [48], where it feeds on moulds; as the specific name suggests, it can also be found in underground habitats. Species of Cryptophagus are general feeders on mould and fungi in a wide, often synanthropic range of habitats [59]. There were very few identifiable remains of Diptera in the sample and these could only approximately be quantified on the frequency of anal segments of puparia. They were identified as the very fragmented puparia of Phoridae and Sphaeroceridae. Phorids are well known from forensic situations and several species are related with various stages of decomposition [60], including from exposed and mummified bodies [61]. Several species of Phoridae, as for example Conicera tibialis, have been found breeding on buried bodies [62,63]. Sphaerocerids, the lesser dung flies, have often been noted from animal carcasses as secondary fauna to primary calliphorid invasion and they are an important decomposing agent for buried bodies [64,65].

6. Discussion The paucity of studies of entomological remains from human burials has partly to do with attitudes towards scientific study of the dead, in particular identifiable bodies with a recent history. Complaints, discussions in the press, and even in the UK Parliament have sometimes terminated research [66], and these problems highlight the ethical dilemmas about disturbing the dead. The feelings of the general public may provide obstacles not only to research but also to publication. In 1965, Lord Derwent initiated a debate in the House of Lords over an exhumation in Stepney, London [67]: ‘‘My Lords, can my noble friend say when the remains of Anne Mowbray will be allowed to rest in peace?’’ was Lord Segal’s plea, one of several which in effect curtailed any further forensic research on the well preserved burial of Anne de Mowbray and even made publication difficult. Anne, the child bride of Edward V, one of the Princes allegedly murdered in the Tower in 1483, had died in November 1481, the last of her line, and yet the disturbance of her corpse in 1964 provoked such a reaction. Whilst this came from both Christian and Jewish lords, it is doubtful whether the examination of the corpse of a medieval commoner would have been so widely questioned! The relevant insect study, when eventually published by Stafford [33], was simply referred to as a late fifteenth century burial, probably trying to get around what had been a very sensitive matter. The beetle R. parallelocollis has been found in a number of archaeological exhumations, and it occurred in numbers in the lead

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coffined burial of Anne de Mowbray. Although Stafford [33] tried to determine whether time of death and conditions of burial could be deciphered from the fauna, he concluded that this was not possible. High numbers of the beetle, 54 individuals, were recovered from within a skull in the crypt beneath Glasgow cathedral [35]. Girling [34] found R. parallelocollis in a chasuble kept in a box from Abbot John Dygon’s coffin in Canterbury. He had died in May 1510 and was buried in a lead coffin. From these burials, R. parallelocollis was the only species recovered and as a result, the discussion as to what the species developed and fed on was inconclusive. The beetle has also been recorded from burials on the site of the Augustinian friary at the Magistrates’ Courts in Kingston-upon-Hull [36], but as there are records from other archaeological contexts and the graves contain debris from earlier occupation, the association with the inhumations is not clear. A similar problem occurs with the large number of individuals from a late medieval latrine, cut through a human burial, at Pluscarden Priory in Moray, Scotland [68–70]. Away from burials, the beetle is recorded from Roman [68,69], medieval and post-medieval sites in York in contexts where the overall impression is of foul conditions [71,72]. Although a Palaearctic species, R. parallelocollis has been introduced to North America, probably part of that foul ballast and dunnage fauna which by-passed Ellis Island [73]. Whilst these records might suggest a strongly synanthropic species, there are also records from Bronze Age old forest assemblages [74,75], in fungi, soil, rabbit and moles’ nests, on mould, in plant refuse, and at sap [50,52,76] and in subcortical environments [77,78]. In modern forensic cases R. parallelocollis is rarely part of the typical fauna related to decaying bodies, although as Erzinc¸liog˘lu [17] notes, few of these relate to effectively buried corpses. Most research refers back to the late nineteenth century studies by Me´gnin [6] in France of exhumed corpses 2–3 years old. The beetle is no longer as common and its decline in frequency may relate to the increased care taken in burial to a prescribed depth in sealed wooden coffins, something which may have interpretational significance. There are differing opinions as to the beetle’s pabulum, whether it feeds on the fatty substances of the decomposing body [79], the coffin wood [80], fungi either found on the body itself or on the wood [47,48], or whether it is predatory on other inhabitants of the corpse [78]. The beetle was noted from burials in Saxony examined by Reinhardt [81], and in a now classic paper the preferences of the beetle, either for the body fat or the rootlets and woody materials are discussed. In the Royal Entomological Society’s handbook to the Rhizophagidae, Peacock [50] quotes Buckland’s then unpublished discussion of the species [74] and suggests that like other members of the genus Rhizophagus, R. parallelocollis is predatory. Smith [5] suggests that it may feed on the coffin fly, C. tibialis Schmitz, with which it has been found in exhumations. In the case of John Dygon, Girling [34] suggested that the beetle had entered the coffin before burial and had maintained populations in the grave. However, if there is an association with coffin flies, the latter have been recorded burrowing down to bodies and maintaining several generations on the corpse [5], and R. parallelocollis’ recovery from subterranean pitfall traps [52] suggests that it may form part of a still poorly understood community of subterranean insects [82,83]. The rest of beetle fauna associated with Greenfield is similarly made up of species able to exploit carrion and fungi in subterranean habitats, either feeding directly on these or as predators on other invertebrates. Q. mesomelinus and M. subterranea may both live in the voids within soils and can exploit foul deposits, the former as a predator and the latter as a fungivore. They would have moved into the coffin which would have offered an abundance of habitat very similar to those which they favour. P. floralis is similarly attracted to mouldy residues and fungi, and is likely to have moved in post burial.

Although it has been suggested that such faunas colonised bodies prior to burial [34], it is apparent that the remains of Archbishop Greenfield provide evidence of an essentially subterranean assemblage. Such would once have been common to the churches and churchyards, overflowing with the dead [84] throughout Western Europe, and species are still present as more dispersed elements in the rich soils of some suburban gardens. Kenward [85,86], in cautionary notes on the simplistic interpretation of archaeological insect assemblages, has recorded insect faunas from modern drainage sumps in urban York. His lists include a number of rare hypogean species, and although only M. subterranea is common to the Greenfield assemblage, it is probable that a more extensive sampling using underground pitfalls [82] would find the graveyard fauna in a few scattered localities, in the overgrown backyards and abandoned plots in an otherwise densely developed city. The question remains as to how the insects penetrated the lead coffin, but given the poor preservation in several of the burials in lead coffins, the bulk of them were probably not well sealed, allowing fungi, insects and other agents of decay in. Initial fly populations may have been engendered from eggs laid on the corpse before burial, but as preservation and fragmentation of the puparia does not allow identification to species, more precision is not possible; it is possible that at least the phorids started entering the body prior to burial. The assemblage overall suggests largely if not exclusively postburial development of the fauna. Greenfield was probably buried soon after his death and low winter temperatures did not facilitate decomposition. Perhaps during the time the body was laid out, the phorids found their way in, although the probability is that they also were part of the hypogean assemblage, entering the body post burial. The use of lead coffins does not seem to have inhibited insect activity on the corpse. Most such burials in the medieval and postmedieval period are indoor, connected with the usually relatively dry environment of chapel and church vault burials. There are several excavated examples, some of which (e.g., St Bees, Cumbria [87] and Danbury, Essex [63]) are characterised by excellent preservation of the body, partly as lead inhibits bacterial attack and decay of the body. However often preservation is compromised because during the burial of the coffin, it has cracked under the weight of the soil, as noted during the exhumation of the relatively recently buried Mark Sykes, as part of a study of the spread of influenza at the end of World War I [88]. The custom of the use of lead coffins in elite burial is much earlier than medieval. There are Roman examples of lead coffins within marble sarcophagi and the rite seems to have had its origins in the 2nd century AD, as Eastern religious influences pervaded the Empire, perhaps as part of an effort to preserve the body for the afterlife [89]. This custom continued into the medieval period. Walker [90] suggested that the extensive use of lead coffins in Britain is a result of lack of marble, although in the case of William Greenfield, the lead coffin was placed inside a limestone (‘marble’) sarcophagus. In some medieval burials, as for example that from St. Bees, there was use of wax covered shrouds within the coffin as another means of effectively delaying decay of the body. There is evidence for use of embalming in some burials in an effort to preserve the body for eternity [91]. As a rule of thumb however, preservation of bodies inside lead coffins is poor and the body tissue and fat is frequently reduced to a semi-liquid soup. Only in a few cases is the preservation sufficient for further forensic examination other than the study of the insect fauna. 7. Conclusion Insect faunas from archaeological burials can be as interesting as modern forensic assemblages and may provide evidence which

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will ultimately be useful in modern forensic studies. In most cases, however, because of the taphonomy of burial, lack of tissue preservation and length of time since inhumation, the information provided is not as refined as the data provided from relatively recent forensic cases. Here points of interest are the nature of the faunas, whether they are independent of the man-made environment (exophilic), an assemblage which has come together as a result of human activities (synanthropic), or largely hypogean in their habits, whether the burial was immediate or not, and if exposure preceded burial. In some cases the nature of burial, whether it was an inhumation or deposition after excarnation or reburial, can be indicated. In natural or extreme environments where species can be tied to seasonal change, season of death can be tentatively inferred. Complaints about disturbing the resting place of the dead are one of the reasons for the paucity of detailed forensic examinations from archaeological burials, and there remain serious constraints on long term research with the often illogical insistence upon reburial by people often with no genetic or religious link with the dead [92]. Techniques, particularly molecular ones, are also evolving rapidly and reburial will deny future generations of knowing, for example, whether Greenfield was related to his patron Archbishop Gifford, a point raised by historians [38]. Although there was very little left from Archbishop Greenfield’s burial to obtain information about his death and the particulars of his inhumation, the insect assemblage recovered from his coffin indicates that the beetles are associated with the period after the burial. The lead coffin did not deter entry of primary processors and their predators and the development of a prolific hypogean biota. No firm conclusions can be drawn from the fly fauna, although it is possible that they derive at least in part from oviposition onto the body whilst it was laid out prior to burial. The well preserved beetle fauna represents the second wave of invaders into the coffin. Whilst the sample does not allow any quantification of the burial assemblage, it can at least provide some understanding of the activities of different species of insects and result in a better understanding of both the ecology of the burial fauna even where lack of preservation of the body itself inhibits any further discussion. Acknowledgements The original sample was recovered by Derek Phillips in 1973 and passed to Peter Addyman, Director of the York Archaeological Trust, who in turn asked one of us to report upon it. Mark Whyman and Ian Milstead of the Trust also kindly worked through the copious archive of the excavations hoping to locate photographs taken during the exhumation but to no avail. Insects were recovered in the laboratory of York University and identified using the reference collections of Doncaster and Manchester museums, whose curatorial staff are here thanked. The text owes much to discussion with the late Maureen Girling and the late Peter Skidmore. Last but not least, sincere thanks are extended to two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. References [1] Y.Z. Erzinc¸liog˘lu, Maggots, Murder and Men. Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist, Thomas Dunne, New York, 2000. [2] M. Benecke, Six forensic entomology cases: description and commentary, J. Forensic Sci. 43 (1998) 797–805. [3] J. Amendt, M.L. Goff, P. Campobasso, M.M. Grassberger (Eds.), Current Concepts in Forensic Entomology, Springer, New York, 2010. [4] B. Greenberg, J.C. Kunich, Entomology and the Law. Flies as Forensic Indicators, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002. [5] K.G.V. Smith, A Manual of Forensic Entomology, British Museum (Natural History), London, 1986. [6] P. Me´gnin, La faune des cadavres. Application de l’entomologie a` la medicine le´gale, G. Masson & Gautheirs-Villars & Son, Paris, 1894.


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