Excavating Eboracum’s Common People

Roman burials have been uncovered by construction work in this area of York since at least the 19th century, something unsurprising given the area’s association with a major communication route.

Located on Knavesmire Road in York, approximately 200 yards from where YAT uncovered the Headless Roman skeletons of Driffield Terrace, the site is part of a Roman cemetery that was first exposed during excavations undertaken by L.P. Wenham on the neighbouring Trentholme Drive in the 1950s – one of the first Romano-British burial grounds to be fully published in this country.

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After three months on site, some 75 graves were recorded by YAT. The graves were, for the most part, strikingly shallow – something that Wenham had also noted while digging next door – meaning that many of them had been damaged by ploughing throughout the medieval period and 19th-century construction.

From the surviving graves, however, we can begin to build a detailed picture of how the cemetery may have looked. At first glance, the image is decidedly chaotic: rather than lying in regimented rows the graves crowd together, oriented towards all points of the compass and frequently intercutting.

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As for who was buried there, this was a demographically diverse cemetery, populated by both men and women, and individuals of all ages from infants to elderly adults – although they seem to have been broadly of the same social class.

Nor was there anything immediately spectacular about the objects that accompanied these everyday individuals to the grave – only two contained any items of personal adornment. One grave yielded a jet pin, while another individual had been interred wearing some kind of copper alloy head ornament whose flaky, corroded remains had left a green stain on their forehead. Otherwise, grave goods were limited to pots, which were found interred with young and old alike.

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