Archaeologists found proof of the symbiosis between Late Roman and Anglo-Saxon civilizations: towns in the Dark Ages promoted a shared culture in England.
ByTelegraph Reporters13 March 2023 • 4:53pm
Archeologists say the discovery of an aristocratic Roman woman dating back 1,600 years at a grave site where early Saxon remains were discovered is a “once-in-a-lifetime” find.
The combination of the two communities at the same burial site could shed light on the largely undocumented period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, experts think.
The high-status Roman female was also discovered in an “extremely rare” lead coffin, buried among 60 men, women and children who lived more than a thousand years ago.
And historians now believe the find may unlock one of the most significant periods in British history.
Researchers found the graveyard during a dig near Garforth, Leeds, which unusually included both late-Roman and early-Saxon people, who had different burial customs.
‘A find of massive significance’
Expert analysis will now take place to carbon date the remains and perform chemical tests that can reveal the individuals’ diets and ancestry.
Archaeologists hope the results can help chart the largely undocumented period after the Roman withdrawal from Britain.
David Hunter, principal archaeologist with West Yorkshire Joint Services, said: “This has the potential to be a find of massive significance for what we understand 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.
“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.”
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.
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 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.”
Coffin could be displayed in museum
Archaeologists believe the cemetery could reveal early Christian beliefs, as well as Saxon burials, accompanied by personal possessions such as knives and pottery.
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 the coffin can be displayed in an upcoming exhibition at Leeds City Museum, which will explore death and burial customs from across the world.
Cllr James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, 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.”