Case Studies

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll Kept Alive by ScanArm

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll Kept Alive by ScanArm

The Department of Forensic Science and Crime Science at Staffordshire University’s Faculty of Science used the FARO Laser ScanArm to scan the bones of Hugh de Spencer, a Medieval bon vivant. This pilot project will lead to a digitised virtual catalogue of skeltons.

If anyone remembers history lessons in school as being boring, then they never heard of Sir Hugh de Spencer the younger. In his day, he lived a lifestyle that today would be classed as “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll!” So how and why is FARO involved. Well, for the very reason that Sir Hugh loved a fast life, he suffered a very slow and agonising death – he was hanged, drawn and quartered!

All that is left of his mortal remains are his bones. But they tell a fascinating story and provide useful information to archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic scientists alike. Unfortunately as most human skeletal remains, they are very fragile and are literally turning to dust. As this happens, this useful research tool is lost to the academic community. Also, the vary fact that they are fragile means that they cannot travel around the UK to be used by scientists as they will be damaged even more quickly; that is where FARO comes in. By scanning the bones, the digital information can be used by anyone with an appropriate interest in research or teaching and they can even reverse engineer the bones should they need to do so. This way, the bones are more readily available to a wider audience and in theory the data will last for decades or longer. As this pilot project spreads and other skeleton are recorded, the digitised virtual catalogue that will result will allow the skeletal material to be examined by a wider audience, whilst preventing the unavoidable damage that occurs when handling such friable material and should ensure the skeletons live-on for many years after their physical manifestation ends.


This scanning digitisation project will build upon a successful earlier project resulting in a resource bank of photographic images of the Hugh De Spencer Skeletal remains. Through the use of laser digitisation of the skeletal material there will be complimentary information about the minutiae of the details associated with the general skeletal markers as well as the unique forensic pathological markers considered to be a result of the hanging, drawing and quartering he suffered. This skeleton’s history is particularly well known and documented (A Traitors Death – the identity of a drawn, hanged and quartered man from Hulton Abbey Staffordshire, Mary Lewis, Antiquity 2008 82:11-124) and this level of detail makes him almost unique in the country.

The digital and photographic skeletal material may be used by different educationalists to disseminate findings about the people that were buried at Hulton Abbey in Stoke-on-Trent; it will tell us ore about how they lived – and how they died.

About Hugh De Spencer

On the 16th November 1326, Despenser was publicly humiliated by being stripped and dressed in reversed arms, with a crown of nettles placed on his head. He was then roped to four horses, rather than the usual two, and dragged through Hereford, where he was hanged, or rather choked, on gallows at 50 feet with his body supported by a ladder. Medieval chronicler Jean Froissart reported that Hugh was castrated, with his testicles thrown into the fire below, because he was considered a heretic and suspected of ‘unnatural’ practices with the King. Still conscious, Despenser was dragged from the gallows, a knife was plunged into his abdomen and his entrails and heart were cut out and burned. The corpse was lowered to the ground and decapitated. (Text taken from – Lewis, Antiquity 2008 82:11-124)

About the Department of Forensic Science and Crime Science Faculty of Science, Staffordshire University

Voted top by students – Forensic and Crime Science at Staffordshire University was rated the UKs top Forensic Science Department in the National Student Survey 2006 which asks all final year undergraduate students in the country what they think of their course and university.

Studies at the Forensic and Crime Science department includes learning from professional forensic scientists and committed academic staff; viewing forensics research pages, linking with external forensic companies, practitioners and organisations, viewing the forensic science team building course video, studying at modern, state-of-the-art facilities and laboratories and using the crime scene house for simulated crime scene investigations.

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