The Poulton Research Project is a long-running excavation endeavour and registered charity based near Chester. The site of the Poulton excavations is in Poulton and Pulford parish located close to both the River Dee and one of its floodplain tributaries: the Pulford Brook. The site is fascinating and has huge potential, being one of few rural sites receiving sustained archaeological investigation in the north-west of England.

Display of the earliest finds from Poulton, including an adult human mandible

So far, the dig has shed new light on a little-known dimensions of settlement, trade and industry in the Iron Age and also it has produced a rich assemblage of Roman artefacts. There is also evidence of Stafford ware vessels from the site, strongly hinting (together with other finds) at late Anglo-Saxon settlement. Perhaps most prominent of all, the Poulton medieval chapel has been excavated by PRP, together with a staggering 900+ inhumation burials. This is a phenomenal sample of medieval graves: one of the largest (if not the largest) from a rural British site being studied in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University.

Human remains indicative of Paget’s disease, from Poulton
The facial reconstruction on display

Last Friday evening I went along to the opening of the temporary exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum: Poulton through Time. The exhibition was developed by the Grosvenor Museum in close collaboration with the PRP to explain the many strands to the multi-phased site and its landscape context.

Poulton poster flat

Project director Kevn Cootes opened the exhibition with a talk about the history of the project and its many discoveries shedding light on Poulton’s prehistory and history. After the talk, there was a drinks reception and a chance to look around the new exhibition.

Today, I went back with two of my kids to explore the temporary exhibition at a more leisurely pace.

The Poulton skeleton on temporary display at the Grosvenor Museum

The principal Archaeodeath dimension to the talk and exhibition is the aforementioned medieval skeletons. I’ve previously commented on the display of human remains in temporary exhibitions by CWAC elsewhere. In this temporary display, there were a number of mortuary dimensions. In one case there was a disarticulated human jawbone together with ceramic finds, serving to illustrate the first archaeological discoveries by the landowner at Poulton. On the other side of the gallery, the burials associated with the excavated medieval chapel were promoted. There was a near-complete skeleton laid out in anatomical order. The text suggests this might be the body of one of the chapel’s patrons: Sir Nicholas Manley, who died very early in the 16th century. A facial reconstruction taken from the skull is situated adjacent. Then there is a display of disarticulated human remains bearing signs of possible Paget’s disease: such evidence is allowing the work at Poulton is contributing to research combating the disease today.

My kids exploring the exhibition

In summary, this worthwhile exhibition introduces you to a project and site with a complex multi-phased parable. Many stories are still to be told from the Poulton excavations, and the medieval burial archaeology has considerable research potential. Also, Poulton through Time shows that even in a small-scale temporary exhibition, human remains can be deployed to tell many facets about life and death in the Middle Ages.