Skeletons beneath Dorset villa could reveal health and ancestry of 4th century Romans

By Ben Miller | 09 July 2014

Five skeletons are thought to come from three generations of the same family in the first discovery of powerful Romans buried close to their villa

A photo of a skull in a stone-filled pit
The skeletons of five men and women have been found during the excavation of a villa in Dorset© Nathaniel Hobby
The skeletons of two men and three women, found near the Roman villa they once owned and occupied and thought to date from the mid-4th century, could provide revelations about the rural elite of late-Roman Britain, according to archaeologists who believe the graves could have belonged to three generations of the same family.

One of the skeletons, found during the Durotriges Big Dig, belonged to an elderly lady. Villa owners have never been found buried in such close proximity to their property before.

“The discovery is of great significance as it is the only time where evidence of a villa and the villa’s occupants have been found in the same location in Britain,” says Miles Russell, a lead archaeologist on the excavation who is a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bournemouth University.

“This could provide us with significant information, never retrieved before, about the state of health of the villa owners, their ancestry and where they came from.

“One of the big questions in South West is whether the villas in the South West were owned by Britons who have become Roman or owned by people from another part of the Empire who have come to exploit an under-developed rural area.

“All villas in this region in the south-west are late-Roman – and our findings should tell us more about what life was like in this period of history. This is what what can be assessed when the bones are analysed.”

An open day will take place at the site on Sunday as part of the Festival of Archaeology.

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A photo of a human skeleton in a pit
© Nathaniel Hobby
A photo of a sandy archaeological site next to a green field
© Nathaniel Hobby
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