Roman child’s coffin found in Leicestershire opened

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Scientists have removed fragments of bone and a jet bead from inside a 1,700-year-old lead coffin. The experts have now opened and started examining the contents of the Roman casket, which was discovered beneath a field west of Hinckley by metal detectorists last month.

Roman child's coffin found in Leicestershire opened
Analysis of the coffin has shown that it was made from a single sheet
of lead and its corners had been sealed with molten lead
[Credit: Archaeology Warwickshire]

The casket, which is less than three feet long, is thought to contain the remains of the child of a rich Roman family.

The team of archaeologists and conservators from Archaeology Warwickshire and York University removed the damaged lid yesterday (MON) morning revealing a cavity filled with silt which had been washed into the coffin through cracks in the lining.

They then began the delicate task of removing layers of silt.

Detectorist Chris Wright, 30, one of the people who found it, said: “It is a privilege and extremely exciting to see the four experts painstakingly sift the silt in minute layers.

“They have retrieved a black, jet bead which could have belonged to the child. They have also recovered fragments of bone which are going to be analysed.”

Roman child's coffin found in Leicestershire opened
The opened coffin, containing silt which had washed through the cracked
lining over hundreds of years [Credit: Archaeology Warwickshire]

Mr Wright, from Derby, who is a surveyor and once wanted to be an archaeologist, added: “To be present at its discovery and now seeing its secrets being revealed is amazing. The experts doing the work say they have never worked on a child’s lead coffin from Roman times.”

Archaeology Warwick business manager Stuart Palmer said: “It is extremely rare and the first of its kind in this part of England.

“There can only be a handful of lead-lined Roman coffins containing the bodies of children in the country.”

He said the grave was not in a cemetery, but might be linked to the nearby Roman settlement of Mancetter (Manduessedum) on the Watling Street.

Last week, the team sent a camera probe into the casket to discover that it was largely filled with soil.

Roman child's coffin found in Leicestershire opened
Fragments removed from the coffin [Credit: Archaeology
Warwickshire]

Mr Palmer said: “The lead would have lined a wooden coffin which has disintegrated. The metal is likely to have been made up from a number of scrap items.”

He said the team from York University would be taking samples from the silt inside.

“They will looking for other items which may have been buried with the child,” he added. “They will also examine the soil looking for seeds, pollen and any bone fragments which may have survived.”

Mr Palmer said the samples might take months to analyse, and that a report about the find would be produced.

He said he did not know what would happen to the coffin once the investigation was completed.

Author: Tim_Healy27 | Source: Leixester Mercury [November 12, 2013]

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