Discovery of Roman aristocrat woman at Anglo-Saxon cemetery 1,600 years old is hailed by

In UK News


Discovery of Roman woman aristocrat at 1,600-year-old cemetery is hailed by researchers as key to charting the murky history between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Anglo-Saxon Britain

  • The high-status female was discovered during a dig near Garforth, Leeds, buried among 60 men, women and children who live more than a thousand years ago
  • Discovery was made last spring but could only be revealed now because the site needed to remain safe so that initial tests on the finds could take place

Remains of an aristocratic Roman woman dating back 1,600 years have been unearthed by archaeologists as part of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ find.

The high-status female was discovered during a dig near Garforth, Leeds, in an ‘extremely rare’ lead coffin, buried among 60 men, women and children who lived more than a thousand years ago.

Historians now believe the find may unlock one of the most significant periods in British history as researchers unusually found both late-Roman and early-Saxon people with different burial customs.

The discovery was made last spring but could only be revealed now because the site needed to remain safe so that initial tests on the finds could take place. 

Expert analysis will now take place to carbon date the remains and perform chemical tests that can reveal the individuals’ diets and ancestry.

Remains of an aristocratic Roman woman dating back 1,600 years have been unearthed by archaeologists as part of a 'once-in-a-lifetime' find (pictured)

Remains of an aristocratic Roman woman dating back 1,600 years have been unearthed by archaeologists as part of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ find (pictured)

The high-status female was discovered during a dig near Garforth, Leeds, in an 'extremely rare' lead coffin, buried among 60 men, women and children who lived more than a thousand years ago

The high-status female was discovered during a dig near Garforth, Leeds, in an ‘extremely rare’ lead coffin, buried among 60 men, women and children who lived more than a thousand years ago

Archaeologists hope the results can help chart the largely undocumented period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

David Hunter, principal archaeologist with West Yorkshire Joint Services, said that the find has the potential to be of ‘massive significance’ in what is understood about the ‘development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire.

‘The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether their use of this graveyard overlapped or not will determine just how significant the find is,’ he explained.

‘When seen together the burials indicate the complexity and precariousness of life during what was a dynamic period in Yorkshire’s history.

‘The lead coffin itself is extremely rare, so this has been a truly extraordinary dig.’

And while the location remains confidential, the excavation was in part prompted by a nearby discovery of late Roman stone buildings and Anglo-Saxon-style structures.

Kylie Buxton, the on-site supervisor for the excavations, said it was a ‘dream’ to have helped uncover the landmark burial site.

He said: ‘It is every archaeologist’s dream to work on a once-in-a-lifetime site, and supervising these excavations is definitely a career-high for me.

‘There is always a chance of finding burials, but to have discovered a cemetery of such significance, at such a time of transition, was quite unbelievable.

‘For me, it was a particular honour to excavate the high-status lead coffin burial, but it was a great team effort by everyone involved.’

Archaeologists believe the cemetery could reveal early Christian beliefs, as well as Saxon burials, accompanied by personal possessions such as knives and pottery.

Historians now believe the find may unlock one of the most significant periods in British history as researchers unusually found both late-Roman and early-Saxon people with different burial customs

Historians now believe the find may unlock one of the most significant periods in British history as researchers unusually found both late-Roman and early-Saxon people with different burial customs

The discovery was made last spring but could only be revealed now because the site needed to remain safe so that initial tests on the finds could take place

The discovery was made last spring but could only be revealed now because the site needed to remain safe so that initial tests on the finds could take place

Expert analysis will now take place to carbon date the remains and perform chemical tests that can reveal the individuals' diets and ancestry

Expert analysis will now take place to carbon date the remains and perform chemical tests that can reveal the individuals’ diets and ancestry.

After the Romans retreated from Britain, West Yorkshire lay in the Kingdom of Elmet, located between the Wharfe and Don Valleys, the Vale of York and the Pennines. It remained independent for just over 200 years.

It is hoped that the coffin can be displayed in an upcoming exhibition at Leeds City Museum, which will explore death and burial customs from across the world.

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council and member of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee, said: ‘This is an absolutely fascinating discovery which paints a captivating picture of life in ancient Yorkshire.

‘It’s also an incredible reminder of the history and heritage which exists beneath our feet, and we look forward to hopefully playing our part in telling this story to visitors to the museum.’



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