Ancient Roman Lead Coffin found in West Yorkshire

Archaeologists working on a site in Leeds, West Yorkshire, northern England have uncovered an ancient lead coffin thought to contain the remains of a late-Roman aristocratic female.

Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee say the find was made while excavating a previously unknown cemetery near Garforth in the city of Leeds, which is thought to date back 1,600 years. So far the team has uncovered the remains of 60 men, women and children thought to have lived during the late-Roman and early-Saxon periods.

The burial site may help historians chart the largely undocumented transition between the fall of the Roman Empire in around 400AD – and the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which followed.

The dig has been completed and detailed analysis of the finds will now take place, using carbon dating and chemical analysis, including analysis of the diets of those whose graves have been uncovered. Burial practices in the cemetery may also shed light on Christian beliefs at the time, as well as Saxon burial practices. Pottery and knives have been recovered from the site.

The exact location of the cemetery has not been disclosed, but the dig was prompted after the discovery of late Roman stone buildings and a small number of Anglo-Saxon-style structures nearby.

David Hunter, principle 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.”

On-site supervisor for the excavations, Kylie Buxton, added:

“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.”

You can read more about the dig at Leeds.GOV.UK.

Images courtesy of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Joint Services.

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