The ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’: Migration, Ethnicity & Identity in Roman York

Professor Christopher Knüsel 

The Heritage Sandbox award goes to a project run by Christopher Knüsel, Associate Professor of Bioarchaeology in collaboration with Devon based agency Imagemakers and Yorkshire Museum:

The ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’: Migration, Ethnicity & Identity in Roman York is a project that tackles the way human remains are displayed in museums and which aims to create a technologically augmented installation that will reveal the story behind the mysterious Ivory Bangle Lady of York. The project will be an example of how pervasive media can be used to break the mould and enhance peoples’ museum experience.

Museum displays of human remains are simultaneously both popular and controversial. Reactions often depend on the way remains are portrayed. This project employs innovative augmented reality based on the biological and social profile of a young woman, the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’, who died over 16 centuries ago (the first half of the 4th century A.D.). Her remains were excavated from a stone coffin discovered in York in 1901 and curated in the Yorkshire Museum until analysed in 2008 during the course of the AHRC Diaspora, Migration and Identities project.

Jet and elephant ivory bangles and a unique openwork inscription in bone, SOROR AVE VIVAS IN DEO (“Hail sister, may you live in God”), provide evidence of links with Christianity, Africa, continental Europe, and Yorkshire. Cutting-edge research, analysis of her facial characteristics, the chemical signature of the food and drink she consumed and the funerary evidence, suggests she was a high status migrant to Roman York, and likely to have been of North African descent.

Christopher Knüsel will work with Dr Stephany Leach. They both teach and research on bioarchaeology, human remains and their burial context at the University of Exeter.

Imagemakers are interpretation strategists, consultants and designers working throughout the heritage, cultural and tourism sectors.