Newcastle sarcophagus opened

From the Press and Journal. There is a picture.

Ancient coffin gives glimpse of Roman times

Published: 16/08/2008

INTO THE PAST: Archaeologists lift the lid of the Roman-era sarcophagus

Archaeologists opened a 1,700-year-old coffin lid yesterday and found the decayed remains of a middle-aged person who lived during the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.

The find in Newcastle city centre of two sandstone sarcophagi believed to belong to the same family was one of the most important in the area for a century.

The coffins were buried side by side and were thought to be powerful people from the adjacent walled fort of Pons Aelius, whose West Gate was just yards away, overlooking a section of the River Tyne close to where the city’s railway station stands.

Richard Annis, from Durham University, said the contents of the coffin had not lasted well since the 4th century.

The coffin lid was not sealed shut and, over the intervening 1,700 years, water has seeped in and eroded the contents. The teeth were still visible, as the enamel is strongly resistant to erosion, and they were relatively well-preserved, so probably from

a middle-aged person.

Mr Annis said: “That was a thrilling moment. The more burials you do, the more you get used to the mechanics of dealing with the remains, but there is still a human context to your reaction.

“We are looking at the bones of an individual and you can see them as a whole person.”

The site was being investigated before it was turned into a modern office block.

When the other coffin was opened previously it contained the poorly preserved skeleton of a child, aged around six, which was submerged in water and sludge.

The head of the child appeared to have been removed and placed elsewhere in the coffin, which was an unusual but not unknown practice in Roman times.

In 1903 two sarcophagi were found nearby, so archaeologists were confident there was once a cemetery there.

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