Lifting the lid
By Mike Kemp
Archaeologists are trying to unravel the secrets of a skeleton found in a lead coffin in North Yorkshire. They hope it will reveal more about the everyday life of our 2000 year old ancestors.
Our Roman Past
Aldborough was the capital of the Romanised Brigantes.
Only 300 Roman lead coffins have been found in the UK.
Well-preserved remains are of a high status person.
Finds of this kind are very unusual in Yorkshire - and only about 300 Roman lead coffins have been unearthed in the UK.
The half-tonne coffin was discovered in a farmer's field at Aldborough, near Boroughbridge. This place, once known as Isurium Brigantium, was an important tribal settlement for the Iron Age Brigantes people who fought against the Roman invaders.
The six-foot coffin was found in a rough cut stone-lined chamber. It had few signs of decoration on its surface and its lid was partially crushed.
But inside were the well-preserved remains of what is most likely a Romano-British adult who probably lived sometime between the second and fourth centuries. It hasn't yet been possible to sex or age the skeleton. No burial goods were found with it but it's the bones which will reveal most.
"We also have the teeth which is very important," said Ian Panter, conservator with the York Archaeological Trust.
"Thanks to modern technology we will be able to use these to shed light on the person's childhood diet and determine whether he or she was born locally or came from further afield.
"I've only ever worked on one other Roman lead coffin burial and that was from the south of England 20 years ago so this really is an exciting find."
The bones will be carefully extracted and subjected to detailed analysis. Extensive studies will also be made of the coffin. But archaeologists already have some ideas.
"The fact the burial involved an expensive lead coffin signifies the person was perhaps of high status," said Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments with English Heritage.
Conservator Mags Felter with the remains
"Funeral practices for such people varied at different times between cremation and interment. We're keen to see what specialists like osteo-archaeologists can tell us about the bones so we can build a picture of this person's life."
Aldborough - where the coffin was found - became a prosperous Imperial outpost, the most northerly such town in the Roman Empire, and had a forum, baths, a temple and many fine houses and villas.
last updated: 31/03/2008 at 15:14