We knew we were on the right path when we encountered some others:
The crypt is only open for viewing from the first of May to the end of September, and here we were on a lovely October day. Fortunately a group of volunteer anthropologists (St. Leonard's Osteological Research Group) were cleaning and categorizing the skulls. Many had studied together in the same Master's program at Bournemouth University, and though they now have regular jobs (some not in the forensic field), they volunteer for a week in April and another in October to catalogue the crypt.
The pile of bones contains the remains of about 4,000 people.
An anthropologist told us that these people were originally buried in the church's graveyard, but the land was full by the 13th century. With numerous corpses needing to be buried on consecrated land, bones were dug up and brought into the crypt, since it's religious property.
It was originally thought that the bones were from Danish pirates slain in battle, then from the casualties of the Battle of Hastings. Further inspection proved these theories wrong by showing an absence of wounds, more female than male bones, and children's skulls.
The bones are estimated to be from between the 12th to 15th centuries, but most likely the 13th century. Determining definite dates would be incredibly expensive, and can't be done by volunteers without financial backing.
For now, the research group is cleaning the skulls and using a distinct numbering system to create profiles - including the sex of the corpse, age of death, and any distinctive features that will reveal disease, injury, and possibly tell the cause of death.
Markings on the skull show previous attempts to determine the gender of the bones, which has been incorrect in many cases.
Many skulls have visible wounds or medical problems, like this one showing a tumor.
A bird built a nest in this skull once it was moved into the crypt.
A man took this skull in the 1960s. It's thought to have been a woman who was brutally murdered. He varnished it and displayed it in his home, saying he'd never return it - maybe he was afraid of the consequences, maybe he was just too proud of his "trophy."
His friends vowed to return it when he died, and now it's back on the shelf.
Check out more pictures from the crypt.