Roman and Saxon cemetery unearthed in Leeds

The 1,600-year-old site has yielded the remains of a high-status Roman woman interred in a lead coffin.

Excavations near Garforth in Leeds have uncovered a late Roman and early Saxon cemetery containing the remains at least 60 individuals, including that of a Roman woman interred in a high-status lead coffin.

The high-status late Roman coffin is thought to contain the remains of a female individual. IMAGE: Leeds City Council/West Yorkshire Joint Services

The excavation, led by West Yorkshire Joint Services, was prompted by the nearby discovery of late Roman stone buildings and Anglo-Saxon style structures at a site earmarked for development.

Along with the ‘extremely rare’ Roman coffin, archaeologists identified burial practices associated with early Christian beliefs, such as the inclusion of knives and pottery as grave goods, indicating that a number of the burials are Saxon.

Many burials included personal possessions. IMAGE: Leeds City Council/West Yorkshire Joint Services

‘The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether their use of this graveyard overlapped or not will determine just how significant the find is,’ said David Hunter, principal archaeologist with West Yorkshire Joint Services.

‘When seen together the burials indicate the complexity and precariousness of life during what was a dynamic period in Yorkshire’s history.’

The team hope that the 1,600-year-old site can shed new light on the transition between the fall of the Roman Empire around AD 400 and the rise of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

It is hoped that, following analysis, the lead coffin will be displayed at Leeds City Museum. IMAGE: Leeds City Council/West Yorkshire Joint Services

Kylie Buxton, on-site supervisor for the excavations, said: ‘It is every archaeologist’s dream to work on a “once in a lifetime” site, and supervising these excavations is definitely a career-high for me.

‘There is always a chance of finding burials, but to have discovered a cemetery of such significance, at such a time of transition, was quite unbelievable.’

Now that the excavation work has finished, radiocarbon and genetic analysis will take place to uncover more details about the lives of the individuals.

Once this research is complete, it is hoped that the lead coffin will be displayed in an upcoming exhibition at Leeds City Museum.