Sunday 23 November 2014

Roman cemetery found under car park

Published 02/05/2013 | 19:26

A general view of Greyfriars car park in Leicester, where the skeleton of King Richard III was found
A general view of Greyfriars car park in Leicester, where the skeleton of King Richard III was found

Car parks in Leicester are fast becoming the hottest place in town for archaeologists.

Following on from the discovery of the remains of King Richard III buried deep under a car park in the city, the team which worked on that astonishing find has discovered another gem - under another car park.

Experts from the University of Leicester archaeological unit that unearthed the last Plantagenet king, spearheaded another dig and discovered a 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery with remains thought to date back to 300AD.

Researchers found 13 sets of remains of mixed age and sex, and discovered the unusual practice of Christian burials alongside pagan burials.

Personal items such as hairpins and belt buckles, remains of shoes, and a ring bearing a possible early Christian symbol were also found at the Oxford Street site in Leicester's historic city centre. In addition, the team has found a jet ring with a "curious" symbol etched on it, apparently showing the letters IX overlain.

Opinion as to its meaning is divided; researchers said it may just be an attractive design but it is also reminiscent of an early Christian symbol known as an IX (Iota-Chi) monogram taken from the initials of Jesus Christ in Greek.

Archaeological project officer 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 130m outside the south gate of Roman Leicester, adjacent to one of the main routes into the town from the south (Oxford Street). 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."

Press Association

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