THE remains of a woman have been laid to rest in a hidden location in the Yorkshire Dales – about 1,900 years after she died.
She was returned in a special ceremony to the mysterious limestone cave where she was discovered by two Yorkshire divers more than a decade ago.
Phillip Murphy, an academic at Leeds University, and his friend Andrew Goddard found the woman's skull by chance during a diving mission at the cave, dubbed the Wolf Den, in 1997.
Carbon dating tests confirmed that the remains dated back to Roman times, and further visits to the site unearthed the bones of some medieval wild dogs and the first set of prehistoric cave footprints ever seen in Britain.
A forensic expert at Sheffield University, Dr Stephanie Davy-Jow, has even managed to draw a reconstruction of how the woman's face would have looked, using the latest 3D computer modelling techniques.
Mr Murphy, a technician in Leeds's school of earth and environment, said: "We know that our Roman lady wasn't thrown down the cave shaft to her death because there were no injuries on the skull consistent with that.
"The bones were definitely placed in the cave, but they weren't found in an articulated skeleton, so they may have been placed there after her body had decomposed elsewhere, which was common in those times."
While returning the skull to the cave, Mr Murphy and Mr Goddard found yet more bones – the femur of a large man, who would have been more than 6ft tall, a large Roman Age horse and some Neolithic cattle.
The cave entrance has now been resealed, and its location kept secret, so the important archaeological site will not be disturbed by the public.
Mr Murphy said: "It is in the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales, and this particular cave is interesting because the style of burial is unlike that we have seen in caves near Settle; the style here is much more like we've seen at North York Moors sites."
In 2002, Mr Murphy discovered that one of the Yorkshire landscape's best-known features, Malham Cove, was nearly four times older than previously thought.
Scientists had believed that the cove was formed during the last glaciation, which ended 14,000 years ago, but Mr Murphy found a stalactite at the site which proved it must be at least 50,000 years old.