50 Graves of Slaves Who Toiled at a Roman Villa Unearthed in England

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50 Graves of Slaves Who Toiled at a Roman Villa Unearthed in England

A large Roman-era cemetery has been discovered by construction workers in Britain. The burials are unusual in that they reveal substantial changes in local funerary customs in the first century AD.

A total of 50 burial sites were discovered at the site in Somerton, Somerset and are thought to date back as far as 43AD in the early Roman period (pictured)

This cemetery is allowing researchers to gain a better understanding of a key period in British history, namely the transition from Celtic to Roman culture and civilization.

The Roman burial ground was discovered as workers were constructing a new school building to replace the previous one. It was discovered at Somerton in Somerset, England.

The relevant authorities were notified as required by law and work on the new building was paused.

50 Graves of Slaves Who Toiled at a Roman Villa Unearthed in England
The burials included both adults and children with a smattering of valuables in the graves,including pottery and brooches

The South West Heritage Trust then began to investigate the site and what they found was astonishing. Archaeologists conducted the most comprehensive excavation of a Roman burial site ever in the region. During the dig, they used drones and other innovative technology.

50 Roman Skeletons

Steve Membery, of the Heritage Trust, told The Daily Mail that “this site is a significant discovery.” Just over fifty burials were found, and they are dated to the 1 st century AD. This is the time when Rome conquered the Celtic tribes that had previously inhabited the area. It was an era of profound political, social and cultural changes.

An exact date of the skeletons is unknown as the studies are still ongoing but early estimates date the remains as potentially as old as 43AD – the date of the Roman invasion of Britain

The nature of the graves was something that astonished the archaeologists. Most of the graves  “were dug into the bedrock and lined with stone curbs to create a coffin structure,” reports the BBC. These slabs were also used in the construction of roofs in the early Roman period. 


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The Guardian reports that “in one particularly unusual grave, slabs were used to create a tent-like structure above the person who was buried.” This is similar to other burials in Western Europe, but it’s rare in England and this custom was possibly brought to the area by Romans.

Roman Burial Customs

The nature of the graves indicates that the early influence of Roman funerary customs. In the older graves, from before the invasion, the dead were simply compressed into a burial place.

Somerset County Councillor Faye Purbrick, Cabinet Member for Education and Transformation, said: ‘The findings are both exciting and extraordinary providing us with valuable insight into Somerset’s early history’

After the conquest, the graves were built with more care and the bodies laid flat. Findings from the grave of one woman suggest that her head was propped on a pillow when she was buried.

Interestingly, small nails were found in the later graves, which seems to show that people were buried wearing hob-nailed boots. Membery told The Guardian that the “the individuals were evidently of some status.” Additionally, some grave goods were found, including brooches, coins, and pottery.

The site archaeology has been carefully gathered for further scientific analysis and full findings on both the skeletons and the artefacts in the graves will be published in due course, the archaeologists say
The graves were dug into the bedrock and lined with stone curbs to create a coffin-like structure and sealed with flat slabs and many contained other items, including pottery (pictured)

One intact pot was found to have the remains of a chicken, who was possibly sacrificed during a burial ceremony. These finds show the influence of Rome on the local population, and how quickly it adopted the customs of the invaders.

Identifying the Remains

DNA testing is being conducted on the bodies to determine their origin. It is believed that they are the remains of Romano-Britons. They had probably been Romanized and had adopted many of the beliefs and practices of the new ruling class.  They possibly came from a nearby villa. It should be noted that the outbuildings of this villa have been found but not the actual building.

Work on the new 420-pupil school had to be delayed while experts from Wessex Archaeology dug the site – and unearthed the discoveries

However, archaeologists are reluctant to positively state the remains belong to Celts who had adopted the culture of Rome. Recently some Roman-era graves were found that hold the remains of those with Asian ancestry.

Membery is quoted by The Guardian as saying that this “find means archaeologists in Somerset are hesitant to make assumptions about the possible origins of people whose remains are unearthed.”

The excavations also unveiled other Roman relics beside the bodies, including traces of Iron Age roundhouses, field systems and a Roman building (pictured)

The find is changing the history of the area. Local public representative Cllr Faye Purbrick, stated “the findings are both exciting and extraordinary, providing us with valuable insight into Somerset’s early history.”


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Moreover, they are showing how quickly and profoundly the Romans changed the local people and their beliefs. Based on the changing burial customs, the Romanization of the ancient Celtic people occurred very quickly.

Further investigations are underway in Somerton and a summary of the findings will be published in an academic journal in the future.


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