Colchester Archaeological Trust
CAT Report 1033: summary
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Roman burials: archaeological excavation (Stage 2) on Colchester Garrison 'Alienated Land' Area H, off Butt Road, Colchester, Essex, CO3 2DL: September 2012–February 2013
by Laura Pooley
(with contributions from Stephen Benfield, Julie Curl, Lisa Gray, P Parmenter, Rob Masefield, Penelope Walton Rogers, N Crummy, V Fryer, Adam Wightman)
Date report completed: February 2018
Location: Colchester Garrison 'Alienated Land' Area H, off Butt Road, Colchester, Essex, CO3 2DL
Map reference(s): TL 99300 24600 (c)
File size: 29,579 kb
Project type: Archaeological excavation (Stage 2)
Significance of the results: ***
Keywords: Roman, cemetery, cremation, urned cremation, ununrned cremation, inhumation, pyre, busta/bustum, pyre debris, mausoleum, barrow burial, burial plots, burial markers, coffins, burial goods, urns
Stage 2 archaeological excavation of 'Area H' of the Colchester Garrison Alienated Land was divided into two areas. Area H1 covered 810m˛ and Area H2 705m˛. Excavations were confined to the north-western half of Area H, located in an area of known Roman burials. To the south-east is Colchester's Roman circus (a Scheduled Monument).
Excavations revealed two distinct Roman cemetery areas. The first was centred on Area H1 on the northern edge of the site, and the second on Area H2 to the south-west. In total, 224 Roman burials were excavated along with 66 pits containing pyre debris, five disturbed burial features, and 26 possible burial features.
Cemetery Area H1: In total, 85 burials were excavated, divided into 67 inhumation burials, 16 urned cremation burials and two unurned cremation burials. Other burial features included two burial-pits containing pyre debris and nine possible burial features. Dating from the 2nd to the late 3rd/4th century, at least five distinct burial plots were visible, defined by an east-west boundary ditch, three irregular north-south boundaries and a square-ditched enclosure.
Virtually all of the inhumation burials were aligned on these boundaries. There were three phases of burial, ie 1) east-west inhumation burials; 2) north-south inhumation burials; and 3) cremation burials. The cemetery contained the remains of a mausoleum with a single inhumation buried beneath. Two ring-ditches were associated with possible barrow burials. On the southern edge of the cemetery was a smaller, outlying burial plot. It is also possible that the three irregular north-south boundaries contained later inhumation burials which would increase the total number of inhumation burials from the site, but these are difficult to distinguish.
Human bone had only survived in 31% of the burials with adults and children represented at a ratio of 3:1. Of the inhumation burials, 46% were buried in coffins and 42% contained burial goods,
including a child buried with jet medusa pendant and copper-alloy armlets, and another inhumation burial containing a wide variety of ironwork and other metal and non-metal items.
Of the cremations burials, all of the 16 urned cremation burials were buried in jars, while only five contained burial goods.
Cemetery Area H2: In total, 139 burials were excavated, divided into 97 inhumation burials, 29 urned cremation burials, 10 unurned cremation burials, and three pyre/bustum burials. Other burial features included 64 pits containing pyre debris, five disturbed cremation burials/pits containing pyre debris, and seventeen possible burial features. This is a continuation of the
cemetery area identified during excavations on Area J1 North of the Colchester Garrison Alienated Land (CAT Report 412), which was defined to the south by the line of a Roman road. The cemetery appears to have been in fairly constant use from the mid 1st to the 3rd century, with only two burials (in J1 North) dating to the 4th century. Possible burial plots were identified on J1 North, but a single square-ditched enclosure was the only sub-division apparent on H2.
Ring-ditches associated with two possible barrow burials were also identified.
Human bone had only survived in 40% of the burials with adults and children represented at a ratio of 2.6:1. Of the inhumation burials, 27% were buried in coffins and 27% contained burial goods.
Of the cremation burials, 23 of the 29 urned cremations were buried in jars with those remaining buried in bowls. Only thirteen contained burial goods. Bustum/pyre sites: A single bustum
burial and two pyre sites from H2, in addition to those excavated on J1 North, brings the total for the cemetery area to eleven busta and seven pyre sites. They date from the mid 1st to the 2nd century.