Saffron Walden Museum hopes to gain fresh insight into past lives

Woman examining a bone fragment for ancient DNA, Saffron Walden Museum Shirehill store

Jesse McCabe, a Laboratory Research Scientist at the Francis Crick Institute carefully examines a bone fragment in the research room at the Shirehill store. - Credit: Saffron Walden Museum

Saffron Walden Museum has been involved in a research project that could help medical research and give fresh insight into people from the past.

Ancient DNA from the skeletal remains of people buried in Uttlesford many hundreds of years ago has been analysed in the project with the Francis Crick Institute.

Tiny samples were taken from 63 burials for DNA analysis. 

Saffron Walden Museum said that most of the burials sampled are from the Anglo-Saxon populations of Saffron Walden and Wicken Bonhunt, but they also included a few Romano-British burials from Great Chesterford and a late Iron Age or early Roman burial from Stansted Airport.

Ancient human remains are excavated and deposited with museums if they have been unearthed by development or through environmental processes, and reburial is not a practical or possible option.

The project has been funded by the Wellcome Foundation.

Museum Curator Carolyn Wingfield said they now waiting for the results from the DNA analysis with great interest.

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Pontus Skoglund, head of the Francis Crick Institute’s Ancient Genomics Laboratory, said: "As part of this project, the unique heritage collections of the Saffron Walden Museum will not only shed new light on archaeological questions, but also aid our understanding of genetic health and disease through our larger integration with the medical resources of the UK biobank."

Museum events for half term

The museum is holding events for children during half-term.

Children can collect a fossilisation pack on February 15, 16 and 17 and make items at home such as a model ammonite, mini palaeontology museum and dinosaur mask.

There are also Make Sessions at the museum. on February 15 the session will make a model ammonite, and on February 16 a mini museum.

In addition, creative writing walks around the town will focus on the radical women of Saffron Walden on February 17 and 19. No experience of creative writing is necessary.

See the museum's website for full details.