Roman cemetery unearthed in Nîmes

One of the most exciting discoveries was that of a casket carved out of a single stone, which contained a glass cinerary urn, along with a wealth of stunningly-preserved funerary goods.

A Roman cemetery containing burial tombs, cremation urns, and a wealth of funerary offerings has been uncovered in Nîmes, southern France, shedding light on the city’s ancient inhabitants.

Inrap archaeologists excavating the 1st-2nd century AD funerary complex on avenue Jean-Jaurès, Nîmes. IMAGE: © Marie Rochette, Inrap

The discovery was made by archaeologists from Inrap, the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research, who carried out excavations in the spring of 2022 on avenue Jean-Jaurès, just outside of the southern perimeter of the ancient city of Nîmes, ahead of the development of a new apartment building.

Nîmes has a rich ancient past. Beginning as a small, fortified Iron Age village, it became a Roman colony (Colonia Nemausus) sometime before 28 BC.

A grave lined with tiles, with a secondary cremation deposit and funerary goods placed to the left of the deceased within a stone casket. IMAGE: © Claire Terrat, Inrap

The earliest evidence of activity identified at the site is that of furrows or sulci, which had presumably been dug for planting vines. The furrows appear to have been later intersected by several tombs belonging to a funerary complex dated to around the 1st and 2nd century AD.

A total of 50 funerary structures – comprising burial tombs, stone-lined graves, secondary cremation deposits, and funeral pyres – have been recorded across the site, only two of which are believed to contain sub-adult remains.

A stone casket containing a glass cinerary urn and accompanying glass lid – both still in tact – a jug and a ceramic oil lamp, a cup, a goblet, and a glass balsamarium, three styli in tablet, two mirrors in bronze, and an animal bone fragment. IMAGE: © Sarah Beiger, Inrap

Thirty of the internments were discovered in the eastern part of the site. Here, archaeologists also unearthed remnants of stone walls outlining the edges of a funerary enclosure found to contain at least seven tombs, along with a well which yielded an assemblage of human and faunal skeletal remains and two fragments of an epigraphic plaque.

Another well located in the southern area of the site containing human (both adult and child) and animal bones, two coins, and ceramic fragments was also uncovered, as well as two other wells situated to the west, which are instead likely connected to the earlier evidence of agricultural activity, as they were found to contain only fragments of amphora and other pottery types.

Two fragments of the same funerary plaque bearing an inscription, discovered in the filling of a well. IMAGE: © Christophe Coeuret, Inrap

The variety of burial types uncovered across the site is remarkable. One individual, for example, had been interred within a nailed wooden coffin, which was then placed in a stone-lined grave and covered with a stone slab.

Another exciting discovery was that of a casket carved out of a single stone which contained a glass cinerary vase topped with its glass lid – both still intact – as well as a ceramic jug and oil lamp, a glass balsamarium, a cup, a goblet, two bronze mirrors, three wooden styli (used for writing on wax tablets), and a fragment of unidentified animal bone.

A collection of terracotta vases, jugs, and oil lamps recovered from the tombs. IMAGE: © Christophe Coeuret, Inrap