Roman aristocrat's body found in mud

ARCHAEOLOGISTS WERE yesterday examining the skeleton of a wealthy young Roman girl, whose ornate coffin was opened after 1,600 years buried in the mud under London.

The lead coffin was found within a stone sarcophagus which was unearthed during the excavation of an old Roman cemetery in Spitalfields. It was opened by a team of archaeologists and revealed the almost perfectly preserved skeleton of woman in her early 20s. She died in the first half of the fourth century AD.

She was lying in a bed of silt, which archaeologists are hoping will have preserved other objects. They are now battling against time to find anything else before the silt dries out and turns to dust. Initial discoveries include leaves in the coffin, which may have been a burial wreath, and archaeologists are examining the silt for bits of hair, pollen or insects which would indicate the time of year she was buried. Over the next few weeks scientists will examine the coffin in minute detail for any clues about the woman's identity and way of life.

Taryn Nixon, the chief archaeologist, said the woman was certainly from a wealthy family. "She was part of the rich landed ruling classes that ran the country under Roman law," she said. "They made their money from agriculture and land rents from the people that farmed on the land."

Her left arm was folded across her chest - a sign of Christianity - but the scallop shells on the coffin and the presence of grave goods indicate pagan beliefs as well.

What is certain is that the woman would have lived in a large square villa surrounding a courtyard, probably in the city of Londinium. Roman law stated that human remains had to be buried outside the town. Their houses were richly decorated with mosaics and wall paintings and the furniture was mainly wooden or wicker. They would also have had window panes made from blown glass. The woman would have visited the public baths with her friends to socialise, but would have had her own private bath for washing. It is not known whether she was buried as a wife or a wealthy man's daughter but examination should reveal the cause of death, whether she was pregnant or died in childbirth.

Whatever secrets remain to be revealed, Ms Nixon said the discovery of the sarcophagus, which is the first to be found in Britain since 1877, would shed a ray of light onto the Roman way of life. "The way in which the living treat their dead tells us a great deal about them," she said. "It is an incredibly rare find because it has not been robbed as many other graves were." The woman's remains are on view at the Museum of London until Sunday 25 April.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste