A Roman mass grave discovered in Gloucester has been hailed as one of the rarest finds ever in Britain.Analysis released today of the grave which contained some 91 people – skeletons of men, women and children dumped in what looks like a hurried fashion – reveals that they could have been victims of a mass outbreak of a disease.
The discovery of a mass grave of Roman date is almost unparalleled in British archaeology.
Only two others have been reported, but their identification has never been confirmed nor have they been studied.
After an 18-month programme of scientific analysis, Oxford Archaeology’s “Life and Death in a Roman City” say the bodies of victims had been thrown in over a short period of time during the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD – about a century before the Romans quit Britain.
Louise Loe, Head of Burial Archaeology at Oxford Archaeology, who led the analysis, said: “The skeletons were lying with their bones completely entangled, reflecting the fact that they had been dumped in a hurried manner.
“When we studied the skeletons we looked for evidence, to explain why they had been buried in such a way. This has led us to conclude the individuals were the victims of an epidemic.”
Two 1st Century sculptured and inscribed tombstones were also found at the site.
One was for a 14-year-old slave and the other was for Lucius Octavius Martialis, soldier of the 20th Legion.
The legion was stationed at Gloucester until the 70s AD.
The mass grave may have been civilian descendants of the Roman military.
The burial site is now occupied by Cathedral Court, a complex of retirement homes at 122, London Road, opposite the Church of St Mary Magdalene, a former 12th Century lepers hospital.
A HOUSING development on the site of Kent Cricket Club’s St Lawrence Ground headquarters has unearthed body parts from a medieval leper cemetery.
Persimmon Homes are due to build 70 homes opposite the Bat and Ball pub but work will be complicated because the houses are on top of an ancient leper burial ground.
A preliminary survey a year ago by Canterbury Archaeology Trust revealed the graveyard last year.
The former St Lawrence Hospital was on the site centuries before cricket was invented and victims were buried in the grounds.
It is believed victims from the Black Death which decimated England in the late 14th century might lie in special constructed plague pits.
The hospital stood on the site from around the 12th century until Henry VIII ordered its destruction in 1536.
The land, used as a car park by the club, was sold off to help finance a major redevelopment of the club’s historic headquarters.
The £10 million revamp includes plans to build a 130 room hotel, conference facilities, improved stands and the 73 flats and houses is seen as the cricket club’s salvation.
But the law says the human remains have to be treated sensitively; which means the skeleton remains may have to be removed and buried elsewhere. They pose no threat to human health.
Marion Green, education officer at the Trust, said: “We have carried out preliminary work on the site and have found several medieval burials but we haven’t carried out a detailed survey of the site yet.
Paul Millman, Kent chief executive, said the club had known about the medieval remains for some time.
He said:”Everything has been done properly and an archaeological survey was carried out last year.The ground was the site of a former leper hospital and we know more work will have to be carried out before development can continue.The developers are well aware of this.”
And the smell of plague? :
A Sunderland art gallery has replaced its sculptures and paintings with an empty room filled with 14 smells.
The novel “exhibition” has combined hi-tech science with artistic imagination to try and capture strange odours and historic events.
The sensory art is the idea of Robert Blackson, the curator of the Reg Vardy Gallery, and features the chemical smells of the sun and a space station.
The smell of the Hiroshima bomb and the stench of plague are also recreated.
Other interesting smells which have been imagined and created include the aroma of Cleopatra’s hair and a death row prisoner’s last meal.
Mr Blackson said: “The idea came to me when I was reading a book called Fast Food Nation. They talk about how you can make a flavour out of anything.
“For example, you’ve got strawberry flavoured yoghurt, which doesn’t actually contain any strawberries, just a bunch of chemicals but it smells like strawberries and that helps to recreate the flavour.
“I thought about the idea of making smells for things that have played an important role in history or society and thought it would be interesting to call on a different sense for the exhibition.”
To assist him in his quest, Rob called on botanists, astronomers, scientists and historians to help him recreate specific aromas.
He was also helped by James Wong, a botanist at Botanic Gardens Conservation International, who has spent the last 18 months recreating the smells of four extinct flowering plants.
The For If There Ever Was exhibit at the Ryhope Road gallery runs until 6 June.