Roman Child Burial from Hinckley

Definitely an interesting one from the Hinckley Times:

A child’s coffin, believed to date from Roman times, has been unearthed at a field in Witherley.

The lead box, less than 1m long, was found by amateur treasure hunters using metal detectors on Sunday.

Archaeologists exhumed the coffin yesterday (Thursday) and transported it to Warwick for detailed analysis.

It’s the first find of its kind from the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border area – a stretch bordering the A5 known to have been of military significance during the Roman era.

Stuart Palmer, business manager for the appointed experts, Archaeology Warwickshire, said: “Everything points to the coffin being from the Roman era and it is the first lead coffin to be recovered from the area.

“It might be one of the few Roman burials recovered from the Witherley-Mancetter cross border region.

“We know quite a lot about the Roman military activity in that part of Leicestershire and Warwickshire but not a great deal about the indigenous population.

“This coffin might provide us with one of a very few opportunities to examine how those people lived.”

The artefact will undergo months of analysis and a report will highlight findings and recommend what should happen to it next.

Mr Palmer said it would be some time before the coffin was opened and only then in the presence of appropriate experts and in the right environment.

The coffin was found along with Roman and medieval coins by members of Digging Up the Past metal detector group.

Realising the importance of the artefact they alerted the police and kept nightly vigils at the site for fear of looters.

Club spokesman, David Hutchings, said: “As the coffin was found in a ploughed field it was probably only a matter of time before it was accidentally damaged by farm machinery, so it’s almost with a collective sigh of relief that such a significant discovery was made before this could happen and the coffin was lost forever.”

There’s some nice photos of the little lead (?) box in the original article. I’m sure we’ll be reading some followups to this when they open it up …

More coverage from the BBC: ‘Roman child’s coffin’ found in Leicestershire

Crossrail Roman Skulls Followup

Yesterday we had a BBC piece detailing the discovery of a number of possible Roman skulls in the Walbrook River area (Possible Pile of Roman Skulls) but today we see headlines connecting them with Boudicca, alas (dead Romans? must be Boudicca’s fault). Seems a passing remark by one of the archaeologists was given greater focus than he probably wanted: From a Reuters piece:

“This isn’t the first time that skulls have been found in the bed of the River Walbrook and many early historians suggested these people were killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans,” lead archaeologist Jay Carver said.

“We now think the skulls are possibly from a known Roman burial ground about 50 metres up river from our Liverpool Street station worksite.”

… give the journos a name and they’ll take a rebellion. In any event, the Reuters piece is accompanied by a nice little video report:

… the horse jaw might suggest something more ‘Iron Age’ than Roman …

Possible Pile of Roman Skulls

The latest items of possible interest from the Crossrails project … from the BBC:

Archaeologists working with London’s Crossrail project have uncovered 20 skulls believed to be from the Roman period.

It is likely the bones were washed from a nearby burial site along one of London’s “lost” rivers – the Walbrook.

Since the Crossrail project began, about 10,000 Roman items have been discovered .

These latest finds could give new insights into the lives of Roman people.

Near-intact pottery artefacts were also found which probably travelled along the same route as the skulls. Other bone fragments would not have been washed as easily down the river.

Paved over in the 15th Century, the Walbrook river divided the western and eastern parts of the city, its moist muddy walls providing exceptionally good conditions for artefacts to be preserved.

The discoveries were found about 3m below ground and underneath the the Bedlam cemetery, a burial ground where hundreds of skeletons have been unearthed .

Though they have yet to be forensically dated, Nicholas Elsden from the Museum of London Archaeology said they were likely to be from the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD, as that was when Romans buried their citizens as opposed to cremating them.

“It’s relatively unusual to find so many concentrated [in one area] when you’re not in a graveyard. We’re 100 yards outside the Roman city walls.”

Roman law required burial outside the city, explained Mr Elsden, which meant there were burial sites circled around the town.

“What we’re looking at here is how the Romans viewed their dead. You wouldn’t imagine modern burial grounds being allowed to wash out into a river,” he told BBC News.

Don Walker, an osteologist also from the Museum of London Archaeology, said the skulls were probably buried in different environments, shown by their shades of brown and grey.

“Forensic studies show that when the body disintegrates near a watercourse, the skull travels furthest, either because it floats or it can roll along the base of the river.

“They were possibly buried in an area where there wasn’t much land available. At the moment it looks as though they’ve collected together through natural processes.”

From initial observations, Mr Walker said there was no evidence of any “foul play”, but details about their sex and age would only emerge through further investigations.

He added that chemical markers on the teeth could reveal where these people came from and what sorts of food they ate.

Archaeologists believe that the Crossrail Project will lead to further discoveries hidden beneath the streets of London and say it could transform our understanding of Roman London.

Other recent findings include several bodies believed to date from the time of the Black Death and wood thought to be evidence of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age transport route through London.

Crossrail currently operates over 40 worksites and archaeological investigations are carried out at each site ahead of main construction works to build the central stations.

The project will connect 37 stations from Heathrow Airport and Maidenhead in the west, through central London and out to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east and is due to be completed in 2018.

Sacred Well from Portsmouth

From the News comes another tale of clumsy archaeologists:

Buried a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant, archaeologists stumbled upon a Roman well filled with coins and a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Perhaps most intriguing was the discovery of eight dog skeletons at the bottom of the well.

Experts believe the dogs, which were worshipped in some ancient religions, may have been dropped down the ‘sacred well’ as a sacrifice to the gods.

The excavation was done at Homewell House, a Georgian property behind St Faith’s Church that is undergoing renovation.

Dr Andy Russel, from Southampton Archaeology Unit, told The News: ‘I would say it’s a pretty amazing find.

‘We have done a few sites in Havant before and found Roman bits and pieces but nothing on this scale of a beautifully constructed well with coins, a ring and this strange deposit of dogs in it.

‘I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing.’

The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.

Dr Russel added: ‘We have found post holes where people have put up buildings in the posts. There’s no sign of stone buildings. This is not a Fishbourne Roman Palace. Wooden buildings probably made up the settlement.’

The dogs showed wounds that had healed, indicating they may have been used for dog fighting.

Archaeologists believe the ring may have been dropped down the well by a Roman sailor, perhaps praying for safe passage home on the stormy seas.

The original article includes a photo of the ring, and it seems kind of iffy to me that it is Neptune (as opposed to some guy with a stick). As for the dogs, Jacopo De Grossi Mazzorin and Claudia Minniti, “Dog Sacrifice in the Ancient World: A Ritual Passage?” have collected some earlier evidence which suggests their presence might have been some sort of expiatory thing associated with the closing of the well (paper at academia.edu)

Roman Vineyard from Leighton Buzzard

From the Leighton Buzzard Observer:

The remains of an ancient Roman vineyard have been discovered on a site being developed by a housebuilder in Leighton Buzzard.

Archaeologists found the 2,000-year-old vineyard at the new Persimmon Homes site at Grovebury Farm, Grovebury Road.

Archaeology and historic buildings consultant Duncan Hawkins, who led the investigations at the site, said the find was exciting because it ‘put another piece in the puzzle’ of the history of the area.

He said: “Although vineyards were fairly common, this is a significant find for the Leighton Buzzard region as it enables us to keep on building a picture of how the landscape used to be; in effect another piece in the jigsaw.

“We were unsure at first whether they were Roman or medieval remains, but because of the common practice of burials out in the fields we have been able to date it to the 2nd or 3rd Century.”

Duncan added that because the process of archaeology is in itself destructive, the site would be photographed, recorded and a 3d model created to keep the history alive.

Mark Gatehouse, Persimmon Homes Midlands technical manager, said the company called in the archaeologists as part of being granted planning permission to develop the site.

“We didn’t necessarily expect to find anything so to discover this old Roman vineyard was a real surprise. It has proved to be very exciting and significant, because not much is known of the Roman presence in the area.

“It will be particularly interesting for new homeowners to move onto a site with such a fascinating history. They will literally be walking in the footsteps of the Romans every time they step out of their front doors.

The site – scheduled for new homes by both Persimmon and sister company Charles Church – lies close to the ancient Watling Street – one of the Roman’s most important highways and now the basis for the modern A5.