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The late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester: Excavations 2000-2005

Booth, Paul and Simmonds, Andrew and Boyle, Angela and Clough, Sharon and Cool, H E M and Poore, Daniel (2010) The late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester: Excavations 2000-2005. Project Report. Oxford Archaeology.

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Abstract

Excavations were carried out from 2000-2005 on
part of the major late Roman cemetery at Lankhills,
Winchester, a site already well-known from excavation
carried out in 1967-1972 by Giles Clarke, which
had examined a total of 444 inhumation and seven
cremation graves. The new excavations, undertaken
by Oxford Archaeology (OA) on behalf of
Hampshire County Council, revealed a further 307
inhumation graves (plus six more partly-excavated
previously) and 25 more cremation burials. The
latter included seven burials of bustum-type,
unusual in a late Roman context. The northern
boundary of the cemetery was identified. Most
burials were aligned roughly west-east in relation
to this boundary or perpendicular to a north-south
boundary at the eastern margin of the excavation.
Further west an approximate WSW-ENE alignment
was more common, relating to the line of the
Winchester-Cirencester road lying beyond the
western margin of the site. Localised areas of intercutting
pits associated with cremation burials
formed early 4th-century foci for continued intensive
activity within the northern part of the site.
Burials, as in the earlier excavation, were mostly in
wooden coffins and were much more commonly
provided with nailed footwear and other grave
goods than is usual in late Romano-British urban
cemeteries. Pottery vessels were found in 39
inhumation graves and coins in 28 graves. Other
finds included combs, spindle whorls, bracelets,
rings, beads, and a pair of shears. A number of
age/gender associations were apparent; jewellery
was often associated with adolescents and young
women and spindle whorls with older women, for
example. Afurther six crossbow brooches, one from
a cremation burial, were found, to add to the eight
from earlier work. These were almost invariably
associated with elements of belt equipment
(and the latter often with knives) and indicate an
unparalleled official/military element within the
cemetery population, particularly from the middle
of the 4th century. The most spectacular individual
burial contained a gilded and inscribed crossbow
brooch, a silver gilt belt fitting and decorated spurs,
a unique assemblage for Roman Britain.
The human remains indicate a generally quite
healthy population with reasonable life expectancy,
a number of individuals being assigned to a ’60+
years’ age bracket. Neonates and infants were
present but, as usual, only in small numbers.
Analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes suggests
that many individuals enjoyed a relatively mixed
diet. Strontium and oxygen isotope analysis was
carried out on 40 individuals to provide a wideranging
assessment of geographical origin, particularly
important in the light of controversial claims
by Clarke to have identified intrusive groups on the
basis of aspects of their grave assemblages. The
analysis revealed diverse origins for the sampled
individuals, with as many as 11 perhaps having
been born outside Britain. Only one of these correlated
fairly closely with the suggested area of origin
of Clarke’s principal intrusive group in Pannonia.
Most of the ‘foreigners’ were of unspecific but
broadly western European origin, but three may
have come from the Mediterranean area, possibly
even from North Africa. There was an almost
complete lack of correlation between non-British
isotopic origin and ‘intrusive’ suites of grave goods.
Use of the cemetery probably commenced early
in the 4th century and continued at least to the end
of the century, but an attempt to use radiocarbon to
clarify the date of very late burials (including some
with associated coins dated after AD 388) produced
problematic results and the degree of use of the
cemetery after AD 400 remains uncertain. Some
chronological trends are apparent, however. Burials
of the official/military group were dated after c AD
350, and the majority of the incomers identified by
isotope analysis (including those identified in an
earlier study) were also of this date. While burials
with pottery were more common in the first half of
the 4th century the range of grave goods deposited
seems to have expanded later. Very late 4th-century
burials in the north-west corner of the site included
a few richly furnished north-south aligned graves.
Isotope evidence suggests some spatial separation
of two non-local groups (broadly western- and
central-European), respectively in the northern and
southern parts of the cemetery area, but such hints
of differentiation within the burial population are
rare and their significance is debatable. The implications
for the cemetery population of the possible
identification of Winchester as the location of an
Imperial weaving shop (gynaeceum) are explored.
Such a presence might account for the appearance
of the official/military community, but this can be
no more than a tentative suggestion.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Subjects: Period > UK Periods > Roman 43 - 410 AD
Geographical Areas > English Counties > Hampshire
Divisions: Oxford Archaeology South > Fieldwork
Depositing User: Scott
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2011 14:50
Last Modified: 22 Dec 2011 14:50
URI: http://eprints.oxfordarchaeology.com/id/eprint/607

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