Archaeologists compare site to Pompeii after finding Bodica tombstone in Cirencester

By Ben Miller | 26 February 2015

Archaeologists roll tombstone of British woman into hole next to grave before transporting amazing find by crane

A photo of an ancient tombstone with a Roman inscription on it
© Cotswold Archaeology
Near the end of a two-month dig on Tetbury Road, in the Gloucestershire town of Cirencester, archaeologists noticed a large, roughly-worked lump of limestone covering a grave.

With a carved triangular top, the slab seemed to have toppled on top of the grave. Cotswold Archaeology turned over the suspected tombstone to reveal an inscription: “To the spirits of the dead, Bodica, loyal wife, lived 27 years”.

“I’ve always wanted to find a Roman inscription, so this is without doubt the highlight of my professional career,” says Neil Holbrook, the Chief Executive of the group.

“We have rediscovered Bodica 1,800 years after she died.

“Bodica is a celtic name, so it suggests this young woman was British and perhaps local to Cirencester.

A photo of a brown tombstone with a roman inscription on it
© Cotswold Archaeology
“She evidently married someone with money who could afford to pay for such a fine inscription. Curiously, the lower half of the stone is left blank – presumably the husband intended his name to be added there when he died, but for whatever reason this didn’t occur.

“There are fewer than 300 inscribed tombstones from the whole of Roman Britain, and this is only the 10th from Cirencester itself.

“But what makes the find so exciting is that we seem to have a tombstone actually associated with the physical remains of the individual it records – so we actually know her name.

“We think this is unique in Britain – it is the sort of thing archaeologists only find in places like Pompeii. The tombstone dates to the 1st or 2nd centuries AD.

“It will be fascinating to study the bones from the grave, and this will be part of the whole process of analysing all the findings from the cemetery over the coming months and years.”

A photo of a brown tombstone with a roman inscription on it
© Cotswold Archaeology
“It looked like the edges were decorated with a saw-tooth pattern” says Cliff Bateman, the Project Manager.

“The problem we had was how to lift the stone without damaging the burial underneath. We could already see the skull and the rest of the body were covered by only a thin layer of soil.

“We decided to dig a hole next to the grave and then gently roll the stone over onto a pallet set within the hole. This could then be lifted out by a crane and transported to a secure store.”

Financial offices will be built on the site.


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What a wonderful discovery!

I was born and grew up in Cirencester and have always been fascinated by the archaeology of the town. I wonder how many of Bodica's descendents still live locally?

This is such a special find. I tend to feel that everything of this magnitude was dug up in or before Victorian times, but that's clearly not the case.
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