An ancient skeleton, thought to date back to Roman Britain, has been unearthed by contractors in North Yorkshire. They were installing new sewers under Sutton Street in the village of Norton-on-Derwent when the skeleton was found 6 feet below the road.
Archaeologist Chris Pole said that in Roman times the site was a cemetery located alongside a road linking Malton and Norton. The area, known as Derventio (from which the modern name of the river Derwent derives), was a busy place from the second half of the 1st century AD.
Malton was the site of a strategically important cavalry fort which lay 17 miles from the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) and at the hub of Roman road networks extending right across North and East Yorkshire. The fort was home to the renowned Ala Picentiana, a cavalry unit which was first raised in Gaul under Julius Caesar himself.
The fort was adjacent to a civil settlement or vicus on the north bank of the Derwent. The settlement boasted at least one fine townhouse furnished with painted walls, mosaic floors, heated rooms and sculptural architectural decoration, examples of which are held by Malton Museum.
The location of the skeleton on the Derwent’s southern bank was in an area of ‘grid iron’ street planning and metal workshops, which included a goldsmith’s shop managed for its owner by a young slave.
Mr Pole said bodies were not usually buried within the limits of Roman domestic settlements because this was regarded as unclean. He said: “It was in a crouched or foetal position, possibly mirroring birth and was located within the limits of a Roman cemetery but it has similarities with burials of prehistoric date. No grave goods were placed with the burial.”
Other skeletons were uncovered nearby when St Peter’s Church was built in the 19th century.
The “remarkably intact” skeleton has been removed for tests to determine its age, sex, and, if possible, a cause of death.