Roman cemetery discovered in Leicester

Archaeologists discovered a Late Roman cemetery at Leicester’s West End at a dig by Western Road. The team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services unearthed 83 skeletons. A very rare artefact in form of an elaborately decorated belt was found in one of the burial pits.

Burial at the cemetery site (by Past Horizons)
Burial at the cemetery site (by Past Horizons)

The burial was a simple grave of a middle-aged man, between 36-45 years old at the time of death. Bioarchaeological analysis of his remains showed that he survived poor health in childhood and led a fit adult live. Further investigations gave hints that the person might have been a warrior, since he also suffered from a fractured left forearm (a so called “parry fracture” commonly occurring while raising the arm to ward off a blow), that healed but left his wrist weakened. And the muscles in the upper right arm and shoulder were damaged in a way that suggests over-use by overextending through throwing and lifting.

Decorated strap end (by Past Horizons)
Decorated strap end (by Past Horizons)

It is believed then, that the decorated belt might have been worn by a Late Roman soldier or civil servant during second half of the 4th century or the early 5th century AD. The ornamented parts of the belt consist of a belt buckle, belt plate and end strap. The plate is cast in the so-called “chip carved” style and is decorated with interlocking spirals. It would have been riveted to a wide leather belt or girdle with a thinner securing strap running through the buckle and ending with the strap end. Meanwhile the buckle is decorated with dolphin heads and the strap end is decorated with crouching dogs on both sides of its tapered end.

Decorated bronze belt plate (by Past Horizons)
Decorated bronze belt plate (by Past Horizons)

Parallel sets have been found so far in other Late Roman cemeteries, such as for example in London, Dorchester on Thames and Winchester. Archaeological evidence suggests that this type was worn by members of the Late Roman military and civilian elite and that the belts were important symbols of authority. Therefore it is possible – as the archaeologists from ULAS suggest – that the man was either a member of the late Roman army or, perhaps following retirement, became an important local civil servant.

(after Past Horizons)

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