ARCHAEOLOGISTS have turned up a major new find in advance of building work at Poundbury – a Roman stone coffin and skeletons.The dig also sheds light on the area from Neolithic times and through the Bronze Age and Iron Age eras.
A team of archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology has been working on a site near Poundbury Hillfort ahead of development on the Duchy of Cornwall land.It is understood the coffin – an uncommon find for the area – was constructed using Portland stone and dates from the late Roman period.
The body is not thought to be present. A full examination of the contents will now be carried out at the Wessex Archaeology offices in Salisbury. The coffin has been removed from the site.
Other finds include traces of ditches, post-holes and pits from Neolithic times.
Duchy of Cornwall spokesman Peter James said: “They’ve found a Roman stone coffin and several skeletons on the site.
“What’s been found is exciting but we did expect something to be discovered there – there are a lot of Roman finds in that area. I don’t know that we expected to find a stone coffin though.”
He said the archaeological survey was part of an investigation of the land before development takes place, possibly in three or four years’ time.
Mr James said: “We have to be well ahead of any development. This will be part of phase three.”
The finds have fascinated archaeologist Bill Putnam, an expert on Roman Dorchester.
He said: “It’s an interesting find. That whole area was a Christian cemetery for Roman Dorchester. And I’m not surprised about the other finds. Everywhere round Dorchester has a busy and complex history.”
Mr Putnam, a former lecturer in archaeology and a renowned writer, added: “Most burials would have been in wooden coffins, the next stage up was lead and the wealthy would have had stone.
“I am guessing but I expect that would be a forth century burial.
“Stone coffins were extremely heavy and usually they would be delivered by the mason to the site and the body would be carried to the grave and put in. Just lowering the lid was difficult and would have needed a tripod.”
Mr Putnam said it was important all finds were recorded.
He said: “Finds shouldn’t hinder development unless it’s something spectacular because life goes on.”
Mr Putnam, former chairman of Wessex Archaeology, said artefacts recovered from a site usually go to a local museum and bones from Christian burials would be expected to eventually be reburied with a Christian ceremony.