One of the ‘most important, but least understood, Roman sites in Britain’ is how the University of Nottingham has described the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk. Excavation work began at the site at the end of August, as mentioned in this previous blog, but the archaeologists working there had little idea of the mysterious discovery they were about to make. In the past few days a highly unusual burial has come to light, with a Roman-era skeleton interred in a shallow grave and placed in an unconventional pose.
According to Dr Will Bowden, from the University of Nottingham‘s archaeology department and leader of the excavations, the burial is abnormal. He is quoted as saying: The body, which is probably male, was placed in a shallow pit on its side, as opposed to being laid out properly. This is not the care Romans normally accorded to their dead. It could be that the person was murdered or executed although this is still a matter of speculation.”
At this stage very little is known about the skeleton and scientific tests have yet to be carried out, leaving the cause of death as yet unknown.
The excavators at first assumed that the skeleton was buried in the town’s cemetery but the unusual burial has cast doubt on this. Bowden concedes that the individual is ‘strange-looking’ and that the experts working at the site had not seen a Roman burial of this kind before. He is quoted by Norwich eveningnews24 as saying: It could be that they were executed as a criminal, murdered and shoved into a pit or it was someone who was deemed abnormal in some way so the body was not accorded the normal burial.
Excavations of Venta Icenorum have also encompassed a prehistoric settlement at the site dating from 10,000 BC. Dr Bowden said: “These excavations have added an enormous amount to what we knew before. There are flints so sharp you could still shave with them they are so fresh they have barely moved in all that time.” He added: “To have the opportunity to excavate here is the chance of a lifetime.”
The excavation at Venta Icenorum will be open to the public until Saturday 19 September 2009.
Photo by Dr Will Bowden, Nottingham University‘s archaeology department.