Friday, November 18, 2011

Exceptional Roman discoveries in Cirencester

Exceptional Roman discoveries in Cirencester | Cotswold Archaeology

In recent excavations on behalf of St James's Place Wealth Management, at the former Bridges Garage in Cirencester, the Cotswold Archaeology team have discovered an extensive and potentially history-changing Roman burial ground. Over 40 burials and a further four cremations have been uncovered, indicating the presence of a large Roman cemetery. This is note-worthy in itself, being the largest archaeological find in Cirencester since the 1970s, however significant factors within the burials may also suggest that this is one of the earliest burial sites ever found in Roman Britain.

Sonia Gravestock, Operations Director of St. James's Place Wealth Management said "We were excited to discover that such a significant Roman site was located under our feet, and naturally we are supporting Cotswold Archaeology in securing the site and making a full excavation"

The sheer scale of the archaeological remains makes it probably the most significant find in Cirencester since the 1970s. But in addition to this, the discovery of a child's grave containing an almost perfect pottery flagon, which could date to the early Roman period between 70 and 120 AD, could be critical. If the child's burial can be dated to this time, this could challenge the current belief amongst archaeologists that inhumation burials were not common practice until the later Roman period between the late second and fourth century. This could make the burial site incredibly important – it may well be one of the earliest inhumation cemeteries discovered not just in Cirencester, but in Roman Britain itself.

The child's burial lies within a small enclosure, possibly a remnant of a hedgeline or small wall, that may represent a family burial plot. Neil Holbrook, Chief Executive at Cotswold Archaeology said: "Whilst we are being cautious, we can't underestimate the potential significance this discovery could have for archaeologists in Britain. Our specialists are working hard to provide further information to try to confirm the dating of this site."

The town of Cirencester was built by the Romans in the late first century AD.  Corinium Dobunnorum, as they called it, was then enclosed within a defensive town wall during the second century. The former Bridges Garage site lies immediately outside the town, suggesting that this burial site complied with Roman law that forbade burial within the town.

Since the 19th Century, excavations in this area have revealed numerous burials and cremations. When the garage was built in 1961, observations by local archaeologist Richard Reece identified 46 cremations, 6 inhumations and part of an inscribed tombstone dating from the first to third centuries AD, so it is remarkable that further extensive Roman burials were still in place after the garage was built.

Cliff Bateman, Project Manager for Cotswold Archaeology said: "It is amazing that so much archaeology has survived the comprehensive building works in the 1960s. We expected the installation of the massive fuel tanks for the garage to have damaged any residual archaeology. It was only after 3 days excavating that we discovered four cremations, then 3 burials then, with each day, we have began to uncover more and more. " 

Other exciting grave finds include two bracelets, made of green glass beads, jet beads, shale and copper alloy. All finds will undergo extensive conservation work, and the skeletons will be taken to Cotswold Archaeology's head office to be further examined to determine their age, sex and possibly their cause of death. Once this analysis is complete, it is hoped that some of the finds will be on view to the general public in Cirencester's Corinium Museum.