Girl killed by Roman sword found in Kent

Girl killed by Roman sword ca. 50 A.D.The body of a young woman felled by a blow from a Roman sword was discovered near Faversham, Kent. Archaeologists were excavating the area to prepare for future roadworks when they came across the hastily-buried remains.

The girl appears to have been between 16 and 20 years of age when she died, kneeling, stabbed in the back of the head by a Roman sword. Some pottery fragments of Iron Age grave goods buried along with her date the grave to 50 A.D., just seven years after the Roman conquest of Britain began in 43 A.D. In all likelihood she was one of its local victims.

“She was lying face down and her body was twisted with one arm underneath her body. One of her feet was even left outside the grave,” [Dr. Paul Wilkinson, director of the excavation] said.

The burial site was just outside the Roman town, with cemeteries close by. [...]

Another indication of her origin, according to Dr Wilkinson, is the orientation of the body.

Romans buried their bodies lying east-west, whereas this body was buried north-south, as was the custom for pagan graves.

In keeping with controversial new Ministry of Justice guidelines instituted in 2008, the skeletal remains of this girl will be reburied on site once the archaeological team have finished their examination. The Ministry of Justice grants licenses for archaeological excavation of human remains. Before 2008, licenses were granted that allowed researchers to retain, study, curate and display ancient excavated remains as appropriate. Only more recent graves were required to be reburied promptly.

In 2008, they changed the standard so that now licenses are granted solely on the condition that all human remains excavated at digs in England and Wales are reburied within two years, no matter what the age of the remains. Archaeologists are protesting the new guidelines vociferously, pointing out that human remains continue to be studied for decades, even centuries, as new scientific techniques are developed that can provide us new information about our ancestors’ lives and deaths.

The ruling was supposed to be an “interim measure,” part of a reassessment of the relevant act (the Burial Act of 1857), but now three years after its implementation, there are a large number of extremely important ancient remains that will have to be forcibly re-interred, like the 51 decapitated Viking warriors found in July 2008 in a mass grave near Weymouth, Dorset.

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4 Comments »

Comment by David Emery
2011-05-01 10:30:04

So just how can they tell the “nationality” of the sword, let alone the nationality of the wielder? Is this the assertion that the wound was stabbing (rather than chopping)? “M’Lord, the evidence here seems to be circumstantial at best.”

 
Comment by Estara
2011-05-01 11:45:45

Well, there is the hole in her skull, seen in the photograph. Nothing seems chopped, as her bones seem intact.

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-05-01 21:41:24

I have mixed feelings about the reburials. On the one hand, archaeology is important. On the other hand, so is respect for the dead. What is the cut off point between being a cadaver and being a specimen? I say this, having enjoyed seeing mummies in museums, but my heart says they should be re-interred.

 
Comment by Brecca
2011-08-10 01:51:33

If they buried the victim facing north-south rather than east-west, what evidence besides the sword indicates the killer was Roman and not a pagan conscript?

 
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