In a “once-in-a-lifetime find”, skeletal remains of a high-status Roman female have been unearthed after being in a hidden cemetery dating back 1,600 years.
The woman was encased in a lead coffin and was discovered alongside 60 other bodies in Garforth, Leeds, West Yorkshire. The skeletons are believed to be from both the late Roman and early Saxon eras.
The coffin made of lead signifies that the skeleton was of some importance, according to experts. The discovery is thought to be the first Anglo-Saxon cemetery found in the West Yorkshire region.
It’s hoped by archaeologists that the site’s find will help them discover the largely undocumented and hugely important transition between the fall of the Roman Empire and the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which followed.
The discovery was part of a standard archaeological survey on the site, which was set to be developed on.
Kylie Buxton, on-site supervisor for the excavations said: “It is every archaeologist’s dream to work on a ‘once in a lifetime’ site, and supervising these excavations is definitely a career-high for me.
“There is always a chance of finding burials, but to have discovered a cemetery of such significance, at such a time of transition, was quite unbelievable.
“For me it was a particular honour to excavate the high-status lead coffin burial, but it was a great team effort by everyone involved.”
David Hunter, the principal archaeologist for West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, said: “Lead coffins were expensive. The fact the family gave this person the expense of getting sheets of lead and the expertise to make the coffin, then it tells us a lot.”
He continued: “At Garforth we’ve got the Roman graves which are roughly east west in alignment and the Saxon graves which are north south in alignment, so the differences stand out like a sore thumb.”
“The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether their use of this graveyard overlapped or not will determine just how significant the find is.”
The discovery was made last spring but was kept secret to ensure the site remained safe for initial tests on finds to take place. It’s hoped that once analysed the lead coffin will be placed on display at the Leeds City Museum in an exhibition that will explore death and burial customs from across the world.
Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This is an absolutely fascinating discovery which paints a captivating picture of life in ancient Yorkshire.
“It’s also an incredible reminder of the history and heritage which exists beneath our feet, and we look forward to hopefully playing our part in telling this story to visitors to the museum.”