The BBC seems to be first off the mark with this one, and it will likely be picked up:
Archaeologists in Herefordshire have uncovered the remains of what could possibly be a female gladiator.
Amongst the evidence of a Roman suburb in Credenhill, they have found the grave of a massive, muscular woman.
She was found in an elaborate wooden coffin, reinforced with iron straps and copper strips, which indicate her importance.
Her remains were found in a crouched position, in what could be a suburb of the nearby Roman town of Kenchester.
The archaeological Project Manager, Robin Jackson, said: “When we first looked at the leg and arm bones, the muscle attachments suggested it was quite a strapping big bloke, but the pelvis and head, and all the indicators of gender, say it’s a woman.”
“The coffin would have been made of wood – we haven’t got any of the wood left, but we’ve got the nails around the outside then three huge giant straps that run all the way around the coffin, and also bronze strips on the corners which would have probably strengthened it, but probably decorated it.
“It’s quite an elaborate and probably a very expensive coffin, and yet the person in it looked like they had a hard working life, and so there’s an anomaly there.”
An offering of beef and a fired pot were also found in the grave, and she was buried on top of a base of gravel.
Also unusual was the place where she was buried – in the suburb, instead of in a cemetery on the edge of the settlement, which was the law in Roman times.
This archaeological find is as a result of excavations in advance of the construction of the Yazor Brook Flood Alleviation Scheme, which will protect homes and businesses in Hereford.
The road east from Kenchester was constructed by the Roman army in the mid 1st century AD, as they pushed westwards into Wales.
Very little was known previously about the suburb which grew up beside this road, however, preliminary results suggest that the main period of development for the suburb was the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and that it was much more extensive and densely occupied than had previously been thought.
Trial work, undertaken in 2009, showed that the area contains the well-preserved remains of Roman buildings, yards and rubbish pits situated to either side of a major Roman road, which ran east out of the town.
These form part of an important Roman suburb, which developed alongside the road, but now lies buried, along with the rest of the town, beneath fields and a footpath.
A team of archaeologists from Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, working in close co-operation with Amey Consulting and Herefordshire Council’s archaeology team, are carefully excavating a 10-metre wide corridor, to allow the flood culvert to be built across this area.
A huge amount of information has already been gleaned, and this is beginning to allow the archaeologists to gain an understanding of this part of the town.
It is hoped that by the time the excavation is completed, at the end of July 2010, the archaeological team will have built up a detailed understanding of the development and nature of this Roman suburb.
The original report also includes a brief audio interview with the archaeologist (Robin Jackson) … much of it is transcribed in the above interview, of course, but something extremely important has been left out. We seem to start in medias res with:
It’s an outside possibility, but we have a very interesting female body on the site …
… so we wonder what that ‘outside possibility’ might be, then later we hear from the journalist after the ‘there’s an anomaly there’ bit in the written piece:
Because if it was somebody that was working in the fields, the strength came from that they would have been buried in a shroud out of the way of the way of the settlement. This is why we’re thinking she’s a fighting lady …
Well that’s one theory that can be pursued; I can’t say that I can come up with any better … [I omit bits about the burial, the joint of beef, the pot, etc. as evidence of ‘elaboration’ which doesn’t “sit happily”] … so maybe the warrior idea is one that you can pursue, but I’ll leave that to peoples’ imaginations rather than what I formally write down.
So clearly we’re just dealing with some ‘thinking out loud’ rather than a formal theory at this point. I highly doubt we’re dealing with a female gladiator in these environs (someone like that would have surely been sent to Rome). The burial in the ‘crouched position’ would also suggest that she’s probably buried in a coffin that wasn’t made specifically for her … I wonder what other burials in the area are like.
UPDATE (A few hours later):
The incipit of a brief item from the Hereford Times:
EXPERTS at an archaelogical dig near Hereford say reports they have found an ancient gladiator are inaccurate.
A local radio station has this morning stated that a female warrior had been unearthed during the dig at Credenhill.
But Robin Jackson, of the Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, said the body was merely of a woman of “considerable stature” representing a lifetime of hard work.