Findings published from Narbonne’s extraordinary Roman necropolis

The final report of the excavation of the exceptional La Robine Roman necropolis in Narbonne has been released and the large number of artifacts recovered from the graves have been formally handed over to the Narbo Via museum.

Between 2017 and 2020, Archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) excavated 1.2 acres less than half a mile east of the ancient city walls prior to the construction of new residential buildings. In 18 months of excavation of the necropolis after the first graves were discovered, a total of 1,430 burials and another 450 funerary structures from the Early Imperial period (1st-early 3rd century A.D.) were unearthed.

The architecture and contents of the necropolis were in an excellent state of conservation, preserved under a thick layer of silt from the Aude River. The condition, number and diversity of the structures and tombs make his burial ground a unique reference site for the funerary practices of Roman Gaul.

The necropolis was divided into funerary enclosures delineated by masonry walls and service roads for access. Cremation was the most common, with 1166 structures relating to the cremation of bodies and containing cinerary remains. Inhumation burial was found in 266 tombs, half of which contained the remains of children.

The Robine necropolis exceptionally documents the funeral rites carried out at the beginning of our era. This is the case for libation conduits, often destroyed by later developments: this device is identified here in half of the pyre tombs and a quarter of the secondary deposits. These tubes, often made up of pieces of amphorae, made it possible to introduce the offerings inside the tomb, as close as possible to the remains of the deceased, whose memory was thus perpetuated, particularly on the occasion of annual funeral festivals such as the Parentalia. Celebrated in Rome in February, they ended with the Feralia during which the family shared a meal near the tomb and offered a sacrifice in honor of the Mane gods. Evidence of these activities was found at La Robine, where several triclinia , that is to say masonry banquet beds that could accommodate meals organized by the family, were unearthed.

The evolution of the necropolis has been carefully studied. Inrap archaeologists have highlighted rearrangements by moving boundaries, grouping plots together or, on the contrary, by subdivisions and recompositions. From the middle of the 1st century, large masonry enclosures were created in the northern district on the site of several plots, and encroaching on circulation spaces. From the end of the 1st century, the increase in the number of burials required the extension of the necropolis and new masonry enclosures were created in several places in the funerary district. These plots closed by high walls could be decorated with marble funerary plaques bearing epitaphs. These, often found reused, provide information through onomastics about the population of this necropolis. Mainly made up of freedmen of Italian origin, it is representative of the plebs who animated the economic life of the city.

Analysis of the inhumation remains found that burial method was connected to the age of the deceased, with adults placed in wooden coffins and children placed in covered pits. Analysis of the residues in pyres and ossuary vessels found that the volume of cinerary remains varied significantly based on the type of enclosure, indicating different enclosures had different kinds of pyres.

Both cremation and inhumation burials contained drinking vessels, lamps and unguent/perfume bottles, sometimes deliberately broken or flipped upside down. Large quantities of grave goods were found placed in the burials intact: ceramic vases, amphorae, glass vessels, coins, jewelry, decorative objects made of bone, ivory and metal, amulets made of beads, animal teeth, bells and phallic pendants. The charred remains of food offerings are primarily plant material, including dates, figs, cereals and bread.

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