The archaeological team which unearthed the remains of Richard III under a car park in Leicester, has discovered a 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery under another car park in the city centre.
The team from the University of Leicester found 13 sets of remains of mixed age, sex, and religion – unusually, Christian burials were discovered alongside pagan burials. The team also found personal items with the skeletons, such as hairpins, belt buckles, remains of shoes, and a ring bearing what could be an early Christian symbol.
The jet ring was inscribed with the letters ‘IX’, which could either be the Greek monogram for Jesus Christ or just a co-incidental design, although it was discovered with remains buried in a Christian tradition – facing east.
Nearby were remains buried in a pagan style, with the body in a north-south orientation, laid on its side in a foetal position, and the head removed and placed near the feet. Two pottery jars buried with the remains would have contained items for the journey to the afterlife.
Archaeologist John Thomas said: “We have discovered new evidence about a known cemetery that existed outside the walled town of Roman Leicester during the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD.
“The excavation, at the junction of Oxford Street and Newarke Street, lay approximately 130 metres outside the south gate of Roman Leicester, adjacent to one of the main routes into the town from the south. Roman law forbade burial within the town limits so cemeteries developed outside the walls, close to well-used roads.
“Previous excavations on Newarke Street had discovered numerous burials to the immediate east and north of the present site, all of which appeared to have been buried according to Christian traditions – buried in a supine position, facing east with little or no grave goods.
“Unusually, the 13 burials found during the recent excavations, of mixed age and sex, displayed a variety of burial traditions including east to west and north to south-oriented graves, many with personal items such as finger rings, hairpins, buckles and hob-nailed shoes.”
The team’s excavations also revealed the medieval remains of 12th – 13th century quarries, cesspits and middens that would have been dug in the backyards of properties fronting onto Oxford Street, as well as a 17th century ditch running alongside Newarke Street which formed part of the city’s defences during the English Civil War.