Archaeology breakthrough: 2,000-year-old find changing history of Roman Empire revealed

Five graves are shining light on the Roman Empire (Image: GETTY)


ARCHAEOLOGISTS were stunned by the discovery of five skeletons in Dorset, which is helping shed light on the Roman Empire's stronghold over Britain at the end of the Iron Age and its decline before the Dark Ages.

The Durotriges were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain, prior to the Roman invasion in 43AD, who resided in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon. Dr Mike Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman history at Bournemouth University, who is co-director of a project looking into the transition from the Iron Age to the Roman period. In 2015, his team of archaeologists discovered five skeletons at Winterborne Kingston, which gave an incredible insight into life expectancy, religious views and diseases at the time.

Dr Russell revealed at a lecture that same year explaining why these finds provide insight into Britain before, during and after the Roman Empire.
He said: “We can age them, find to what the life expectancy was, if they are male or female, what their relative health status was and how they got on through life.
“Their status, of course, we can look at that, you can gather an idea from what’s buried with them.
“What about their religion? Most the burials we’re excavating have got evidence of the religion in that grave with them.
“For these people, they certainly believed in an afterlife, because they’ve got things with them for that journey, they’ve got pots and joints of meat, some have a sword, or a spear, or arrow.”
Dr Russell said his team had uncovered evidence of a possible deadly infection which may have struck the population during the invasion.

                                         


He added: “We can look at an aspect of disease, these are two bones from one of those burials, the lesions in the ribs suggest there’s some kind of respiratory disorder, possibly tuberculosis.
“From our point of view, that’s quite exciting, because it’s one of the earliest examples of that particular disease in Britain, so we’re trying to understand the way the disease spread and how it affected the ancient population.
“We’ve got two individuals here showing this distinct cranial trauma, so we can see they died violently, perhaps a pickaxe to the head.
“Is that evidence of inter-tribal warfare or sacrifice? Have they been executed or punished? By analysing these, we’re looking at the types of battles that played out.”
Dr Russell went on to explain how why the graves suggest this population was not Christian.
He added: “The series of five graves we found in Winterborne had three females and two males graves.
“The male graves, we are dealing with individuals who are lying on their backs, their heads at the eastern end, so we can say straight away they’re not Christian.
“They’ve got grave goods, which early Christian communities didn’t have.
“There’s another one and around the body there are little iron nails, indicating where the walls of the coffins were.
“The two male burials have got evidence that they were wearing shoes.”
But, there was one body that baffled the team more than the rest.
A woman who had reportedly died at around 80 and another 40, when life expectancy was thought to be about 30 years during the Roman Empire.
Mr Russell continued: “There is a rather deviant burial too, this is an elderly woman, aged about 80, who’s been decapitated, so the cause of death is quite clear.
“But she is still buried with care reverence, and grave goods, so the question is, how did she meet this rather gory end?
“Whoever put her into the ground, was still giving her the right stuff for the afterlife.
“The best find from my point of view is this one, another female burial who was about 40 when she died.
“By her feet, you can see this little pottery bowl, a very simple bowl, but it dates to around 380-390AD.”
Even more puzzling, Dr Russell said the team had uncovered evidence helping to pinpoint the moment the Roman Empire declined, bringing about the Dark Ages.
He added: “It hasn’t gone into the ground fresh, it’s heavily warning, about 50 or 60 years worth of wear on there, it’s been broken and repaired.
“We can imagine that passing down from generation to generation, the dates the grave to around 450AD, why is that important? Because that’s 50 years after Roman Britain ends.
“These are people who were living through economic turmoil, inflation, mass unemployment, mass immigration, invasion, terrorism, war.
“They lived through it, and died in the middle of it, but they are Dark Age graves.
“Information-wise, those five graves are far more significant than anything found in the Staffordshire Hoard, because they truly shine a light into the Dark Ages.”


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