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Helen Castor presents the programme that goes behind the history headlines. Scottish medievalist Fiona Watson and landscape historian Francis Pryor join Helen to discuss medieval mutilations in North Yorkshire, illegal whisky distilling in nineteenth century Scotland and the news that human beings may have evolved in Africa 100,000 years earlier than we thought.
Tom Holland travels to North Yorkshire and the deserted medieval village at Wharram Percy which archaeologists now believe was the site of a gruesome practice of mutilation in the middle ages. Dr Simon Mays is a human skeletal biologist for Historic England and he noticed some odd marks on human bones recovered at Wharram Percy in the sixties. These bones were found in the middle of the deserted village - not in the churchyard. Simon thinks the marks on them were caused by severe blows made shortly after death - maybe to stop disruptive souls from tormenting villagers again.
Whisky writer Rachel McCormack takes us to another remote and deserted location, the Cabrach between Aberdeen and Inverness. This was the centre of a well-developed, but illegal, whisky distilling industry in the eighteenth century. Although the remote location kept these stills hidden from the revenue men it also made them commercially unviable when whisky production was licensed in the 1820s. The ruined farmsteads in this otherwise untouched environment are the only clues to this tumultuous past.
Dr Vanessa King and Dr Matthew Green show Helen a seedy and brutal history of a night out on London's South Bank, and Dr John McNabb responds to news that Homo Sapiens may be 100,000 older than we once thought.