Archaeological work conducted in advance of the construction of a new school in Somerton, Somerset, has uncovered a high-status Romano-British cemetery.

A skeleton in a stone cist burial with a cooking pot at its feet
A Roman burial of late 4th-century date, with a large cooking pot placed at the skeleton’s feet. [Image: Wessex Archaeology]

The excavations, carried out by Wessex Archaeology and overseen by South West Heritage Trust, discovered the remains of over 50 Late Iron Age–Romano-British burials, comprising both adults and children. The position of one woman’s skull suggests that she had been buried with her head resting on a pillow, and the presence of small nails around the foot bones in many graves indicates that these people were buried wearing footwear with hobnailed soles.

Grave goods included pottery and items of jewellery, as well as a cooking pot containing the remains of a chicken wing, a coin from the reign of Emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79), and a carved piece of bone most likely from a knife handle.

Most of the burials, which date from the late 3rd century AD to possibly the early 5th century (and post-Roman period), were cist graves, cut through the bedrock and lined and capped with stones – in one particularly unusual example, these slabs had been arranged as a tent-like roof. A number of individuals had been buried in a flexed position, indicating the continuation of local Iron Age funerary customs into the Roman period. such burials are likely to date to the 1st century AD.

If these people were buried in the 1st century, it is thought that they probably lived and worked within the Late Iron Age/Early Romano-British settlement whose traces have been uncovered. Later burials could be associated with a Roman villa nearby – currently, no direct evidence for a villa has been found, but other buildings thought to be an outhouse or a barn and a corn drier, which may have been associated with such a complex, have been discovered. Evidence of a possible Bronze Age barrow, and Iron Age roundhouses and field systems have also been found.

It is hoped that future scientific analysis will shed more light on the origins of these individuals and the lives of people in southwest Britain before and after the Roman invasion.


This news article appears in issue 360 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

One Comment

  1. Carol Latimer
    October 23, 2020 @ 8:16 pm

    I know Somerton well,is there any update on findings. Did enquire when visiting in early September, but no one was available in the town library due to covid

    Reply

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