Large Roman cemetery discovered in Norfolk

One of the Roman skeletons found at the site The site has been excavated over the last four months

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Archaeologists have discovered 85 Roman graves in what has been hailed as the largest and best preserved cemetery of that period found in Norfolk.

The site at Great Ellingham, near Attleborough, has been excavated over the last four months and the findings have now been revealed.

Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there were some which were beheaded after death.

The cemetery is thought to date from the 3rd/4th Century.

The excavation was part of a planning process following an application for the residential development of a site in Great Ellingham.

Complete burials and isolated finds of human bones have been recorded at, and immediately adjacent to, the site since the late 1950s.

An archaeological evaluation by trial trenching in November 2011 by Chris Birks Archaeology revealed Roman burials and isolated finds of human bone, confirming the cemetery extended into the proposed development site.

The works have been co-funded by the landowner and developer.

Chris Birks said: "Even from the results of the evaluation, we never expected to find 85 burials, the most previously being recorded in Norfolk was about half this amount."

One of the Roman skeletons found at the site One skeleton represented a decapitation burial

He said one particular feature that had been identified from the excavations is the seemingly deliberate placement of flints around the skull.

One burial represents a decapitation burial where the head has been placed by the feet, which Mr Birks said was "surprisingly not an unknown type of burial from other Roman cemeteries".

"Analysis and research by a human bones specialist will no doubt shed more light on these and the other burials," said Mr Birks.

The only grave goods found at the site was an iron finger ring.

"The population represented by this cemetery was most probably a rural settlement reliant on farming practices though, at present, we don't know where this settlement was," said Mr Birks.

David Gurney, historic environment manager at Norfolk County Council, said: "Only 300 Roman burials have been found in Norfolk. This discovery is a fantastic opportunity to look at these skeletons, to find out clues about their life and diets."

All the burials at Great Ellingham have now been removed.

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