A Roman sarcophagus has recently been uncovered during excavations at Sydney Gardens in Bath.
The discovery was made by archaeologists from L – P : Archaeology, who were carrying out a watching brief at the former 18th-century pleasure gardens in advance of building conservation and landscape work by Bath & North East Somerset Council.
This rare discovery was made after the project revealed the remains of a Roman wall cutting a prehistoric quarry pit. The stone coffin was uncovered soon afterwards, along with a cremation burial – the first to be recorded from the cemetery. Next to the sarcophagus, a possible votive offering, consisting of a small pot containing what also appears to be cremated remains – although it is hoped further analysis will be able to provide more clarity – as well as a number of small red and blue glass beads were recovered.
The casket and lid of the sarcophagus were found to both be made out of Bath limestone and, once the sarcophagus was opened, it proved to contain the remains of two people: one lying in a prone position (face-down) and another heaped at their feet after being reinterred in the coffin. While several Roman stone sarcophagi have been discovered in and around Bath, this is the first to be excavated using modern techniques and as such could offer unique insight into Roman burial practices in the area.
Commenting on the discovery, Kelly Madigan, an archaeologist at L – P : Archaeology, said: ‘I’m beyond excited to find out the results of the assessment which is currently ongoing in our labs and hope that it in turn lends itself to an interesting analysis phase where we can delve deeper into just who the people we found in the coffin were, where they were from, and their health and welfare. Having a human skeleton directly associated with a coffin is a rarity, and to have this one associated with a probable votive offering and nearby human cremation allows a very rare glimpse into funerary practices in the region almost two millennia ago.’
It is hoped that once post- excavation analysis is complete, the empty sarcophagus may be able to go on display in the Temple of Minerva in Sydney Gardens, along with information panels describing and interpreting the Roman history of the gardens.