Remains of the Roman aristocrat found in an ancient lead coffin

An undiscovered 1,600-year-old burial site in northern England could provide key clues to a largely undocumented period in British history, officials announced this week.

The government of Leeds, a city about an hour north-east of Manchester, announced on Monday that archaeologists had unearthed a historic cemetery in the area thought to contain the remains of more than 60 men, women and children who they lived there more than a millennium ago.

Among the archaeologists’ finds was one particularly noteworthy find: an ancient lead coffin believed to contain the remains of an aristocratic woman from the last years of the Roman Empire.

An ancient lead coffin found in a never-before-discovered 1,600-year-old Leeds cemetery thought to contain the remains of a late Roman aristocratic woman. / Credit: City of Leeds

The site appeared to include remains of both Roman and Anglo-Saxon people, the City of Leeds said in a press release, noting that the differing burial customs associated with each cultural group indicated that some remains could be traced back to the late Roman and early Anglo-Saxon empires. Saxon kingdoms emerged after it. Archaeologists made the discovery while working on a larger excavation near Garforth in Leeds in spring last year, the city said.

Officials had kept news of their discovery under wraps to protect the anonymity of the site while initial tests were underway to learn more about the archaeological finds and their significance, according to the city. Now that the excavation is complete, experts will analyze the remains and use carbon dating to more accurately pinpoint how old they are, officials said. The remains will also be subjected to “detailed chemical tests that can determine such extraordinary details as individual diets and ancestry.”

The ancient burial site in Leeds may finally help clarify details about an important stretch of British history, as the Roman Empire passed on to successive Anglo-Saxon communities.

“Archaeologists hope this means the site could help them trace the largely undocumented and hugely important transition between the fall of the Roman Empire around AD 400 and the establishment of the famous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that followed,” said the city ​​of Leeds in its announcement this week.

The findings could be particularly illuminating for Leeds, where the land once belonged to an ancient kingdom called Elmet that historians say existed from the end of Roman rule in Britain through centuries of Anglo-Saxon settlement.

“Even after the Romans were gone, many areas were still a mixture of the two cultures, including Elmet,” Leeds City Council spokesman Stuart Robinson said in an email to CBS News.

“And that’s one of the reasons you see a mixture of Roman and Saxon/British cultures in the burial customs at the site,” Robinson said. ‘So the hope is that once analysed, these finds will provide a clear picture of how Saxon culture in Yorkshire (and Britain) evolved.’

Archaeologist Chloe Scot is excavating one of the graves at the site where an ancient lead coffin was unearthed in an undiscovered 1,600-year-old cemetery in Leeds, England.  / Credit: City of Leeds

Archaeologist Chloe Scot excavating one of the graves at the site of an ancient lead coffin unearthed in an undiscovered 1,600-year-old cemetery in Leeds, England. / Credit: City of Leeds

Roman Britain was a period that lasted almost 400 years at the beginning of the present era, when much of the island was occupied by the Roman Empire. While the occupation left a significant mark on British culture, the eventual transition from Roman occupation to Anglo-Saxon settlement remains a little-known feature of British history.

“This has the potential to be a discovery of huge importance for what we understand about the development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire,” said David Hunter, principal archaeologist with West Yorkshire Joint Services, in a statement included with the statement. this week’s announcement from the City of Leeds. Yorkshire is the county in which Leeds is located.

“The occurrence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether or not their use of this cemetery overlapped will determine how significant the find is. When viewed together, the burials indicate the complexity and precariousness of life during what was a dynamic period in Yorkshire’s history,” Hunter continued. “The lead coffin itself is extremely rare, so this was a truly remarkable dig.”

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