Excavations at Sydney Gardens in Bath have unearthed a rare Ancient Roman stone sarcophagus containing the skeletal remains of two individuals. The find offers fascinating insight into Roman funerary practices in the region.
L-P Archaeology were called in to excavate around a Roman wall discovered at the edge of the Bathwick Roman cemetery during building and landscape conservation work in Sydney Gardens, a former 18th-century pleasure garden, as part of a project commissioned by Bath & North East Somerset Council.
The sarcophagus was interred within a grave approximately 2m in length, 60cm in width, and at a depth of 50cm. Its north-facing orientation suggests the burial was pagan.
Preserved within the limestone casket and lid were the remains of an individual interred in a prone position (face-down) and with the partial remains of another individual laid at their feet.
A cremation burial, the first-ever recorded at Bathwick Cemetery, was also discovered, and a small pot containing food remains found in association with the burial has been interpreted as a possible votive offering. Other Roman finds include small red and blue glass beads.
‘This is a real career highlight,’ said Kelly Madigan, Partner at L-P Archaeology. ‘It isn’t often that you come across an in-situ stone coffin complete with occupants. 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.’
After bioarchaeological analyses have been completed, the remains will be reinterred within a certified burial ground.
The council is currently considering plans to display the stone sarcophagus in Sydney Gardens alongside new interpretation panels about the site’s Roman past.