Builders working on a new school in Somerset were in for a surprise when they stumbled across the graves of 50 Roman slaves.
The graves were unearthed at the site in Somerton, and are believed to belong to 'high-status' Romans.
Steve Membery, an archaeologist with the South West Heritage Trust said: “This site is a significant discovery – the most comprehensive modern excavation of a Roman cemetery in Somerset.
“The application of technology including aerial drones and techniques such as isotope and ancient DNA analysis offers major opportunities for insights into the lives of the Roman population of Somerton”.
Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology believe that the burials date from the Late Iron Age to the Roman period.
Their graves were dug into the bedrock and lined with stone ‘kerbs’ to create a coffin-like structure, before being capped with flat slabs.
Damian De Rosa, Wessex Archaeology Senior Project Manager, said: “Due to the size and lack of disturbance on the site, we have been able to examine generations of a community whose existence spanned over 500 years.
“We have found both adults and children, alongside some grave goods including pottery, bracelets and brooches; and most were found to have been buried wearing hobnail footwear.
“We think the cemetery may have been connected to a villa estate in the nearby area, and what has been particularly fascinating is the cultural transition that we see here – from the native Iron Age traditions to the adoption of more Roman customs.
“We have also found some interesting burial practices, including a ‘tent’ burial where the slabs are arranged like a tent above the body.”
The site is now undergoing a full analysis, and the findings will be published ‘in due course.’
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