Neil Holbrook, Jamie Wright, E R McSloy, and Jonny Geber
Cotswold Archaeology, £19.95
ISBN 978-0993454530
Review Edward Biddulph

Archaeology always retains the power to surprise. The site of Cirencester’s western cemetery, much developed and truncated over the years, ought to have retained few secrets, but the results of the excavation – 126 graves, a walled cemetery, deviant burials, an enamelled bronze cockerel, and a complete tombstone – exceeded expectations. Even unassuming evidence, carefully examined, has revealed aspects that are remarkable: the broken pottery from the backfill of a grave that speaks of graveside ceremonies, plant remains from the pyre, the malformed jaw that tells of hardship in life and ignominy in burial.

That tombstone, unearthed in the full glare of the world’s media, takes pride of place. Its meticulous analysis reveals a master sculptor, a sloppy engraver, possible Christian iconoclasm, and the back story of a Romano-Briton, Bodicacia. The discussion is an excellent piece of synthesis, but I have one plea: Philpott’s 1991 survey of Romano- British burial practices (much referenced in this volume) has served us well, but an update is long overdue.

This review appeared in CA 337.

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