Decapitated body with head between legs found among unusual Roman burials at new armed forces site

By Ben Miller | 20 December 2015 | Updated: 18 November 2015

The alignment of a set of graves found at Worthy Down suggests they could have been steeped in tribal traditions

A photo of a roman skeleton buried at a ministry of defence armed forces site
One of the burials found at Worthy Down, where the Defence College of Logistics will be largely relocated© Crown Copyright MOD
A decapitated body with its head placed between its legs and two skeletons buried in rare fully extended positions have been discovered during an excavation at a proposed £250 million armed forces training facility in Hampshire, where archaeologists say the late Roman community may have been rooted in tribal tradition.

At least 11 burials have been found at Worthy Down, notable for their “surprisingly wide” range of interment practices and typically hobnailed Roman footwear and boots.

A photo of a roman skeleton being excavated at a ministry of defence armed forces site
Oxford Archaeology carried out the excavations© Crown Copyright MOD
“The contrast between how these Romans lived and how modern service personnel will live in the new facilities we’re providing is stark,” said Stuart Adamson, the Project Manager who oversaw the preparatory groundwork for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

“But it’s been fascinating for all of us to see history coming to life around us as the project progresses.

“We’re taking every care to ensure that the archaeology is properly excavated, investigated and recorded while also making sure that the project is not delayed as a result of this interesting discovery.”

A coin of the Roman emperor Valens, who reigned between 364 and 378AD, and a burial in a crouched position, on its side, were also found. Only one of the graves had an east-to-west alignment – the most common in late Roman cemeteries – with the majority facing north-west-to-south-east.

Tracy Matthews, the Archaeology Officer for Winchester City Council, called the discoveries “really exciting” and said analysis work would provide “a fascinating insight into the lives and deaths of some of the area’s early inhabitants.”

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Three places to discover Roman Britain in

Wroxeter Roman City, Shropshire
The site museum and audio tour reveal how Wroxeter worked in its heyday and the health and beauty practices of its 5,000 citizens. Dramatic archaeological discoveries provide a glimpse of the last years of the Roman city and its possible conversion into the headquarters of a 5th Century British or Irish Warlord.

Piddington Roman Villa Museum, Northampton
Housed in a former Wesleyan chapel, the museum displays some of the many finds made during the long running, ongoing excavation of the Piddington Roman Villa over 25 years.

Museum of London
Discover what life was like in Londinium and see everyday Roman objects from homeware to precious jewellery in the permanent Roman London exhibition.
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