A pair of unusual late Roman or early Saxon burials with displaced legs have been found during works on the A14. (IMAGE: Highways England, courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure)

Extensive archaeological work during Highways England’s A14 improvement scheme in Cambridgeshire has revealed a wealth of features spanning thousands of years (see CA 339). As the excavations draw towards their close, further finds are continuing to emerge.

The Roman period in particular has been well represented during recent work by MOLA Headland Infrastructure, including the discovery of a possible temporary military camp, as evidenced by a huge defensive ditch measuring roughly 3m wide and 1.5m deep, with a possible raised bank beside it.

The team has also discovered a pair of unusual late Roman or early Saxon burials. Lying in an apparent rubbish heap, the bodies of two people had been buried at a right angle to each other. Curiously, the lower legs of both skeletons had been repositioned, placed further up their body towards their head. Given the limbs’ level of articulation, moreover, the legs seem to have been at least partially fleshed when they were moved.

While post-excavation analysis is needed to shed further light on how – and why – these limbs were moved, it is possible that they were cut off either in some sort of violent altercation or as a form of punishment. Alternatively, it might be that they were removed after death, either as a form of protection against the dead or as part of some other funerary practice. As Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist with Cambridge County Council, said, ‘Was it to keep them in their graves and stop them from running away? Or had they tried to run away [in life] and was this a punishment – and a warning to everyone else not even to think of doing the same?’

This article appeared in CA 342.

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