Analysis of teeth could be the only way to identify skeleton

TEETH may offer the final chance to discover more about the skeleton found on an islet off the west coast in 2018.

States archaeologist Dr Phil de Jersey with a skeleton found on Chapelle Dom Hue dating from around 1760. It is believed to be that of a Royal Navy sailor, but confirming that is not easy and could be costly. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 29213620)
States archaeologist Dr Phil de Jersey with a skeleton found on Chapelle Dom Hue dating from around 1760. It is believed to be that of a Royal Navy sailor, but confirming that is not easy and could be costly. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 29213620)

The remains discovered on Chapelle Dom Hue were initially thought to be those of one of the monks who lived on nearby Lihou.

However, after closer inspection of buttons found near the skeleton, archaeologists think that it was likely to be a Royal Navy sailor who they believe died around 1760.

Since that discovery there have been no more facts unearthed about the skeleton and States archaeologist Dr Phil de Jersey said that probably the only avenue left now was to have a DNA analysis done of the man’s teeth.

This presents problems in that it is expensive and there is also the challenging nature of DNA analysis.

‘It is not yet in the same sort of situation as we have with radiocarbon dating, where there are a good number of labs available and they can all provide a straightforward service which provides a date which is easy to interpret,’ he said.

DNA analysis requires someone to interpret the data and in order to do that a lot of comparative data is needed.

‘What tends to get submitted for DNA analysis are whole sets of individuals, for example from cemetery excavations,’ he said.

He said it was difficult to know where analysts might obtain comparative data from the period when the man was thought to have lived.

‘From the radiocarbon date he died around AD 1760, but I am not sure there are many samples available for that period – certainly none from the Channel Islands and possibly not from neighbouring parts of Europe either.’

So while there was a cost involved, Dr de Jersey said it was not really the money that was the issue, ‘it’s whether that money would actually be well spent on tests that may not take us very much further in understanding who he was’.

He planned to ask some contacts for further advice on the possibilities.

Once all avenues of research have been exhausted, it is planned is to re-bury the skeleton and Dr de Jersey said he intended to contact the church authorities to see what arrangements could be made.

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