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Forensic work begins as Roman child's coffin is opened

By Tamworth Herald  |  Posted: November 11, 2013

By Helen Machin

Stuart Palmer with the opened coffin.

Stuart Palmer with the opened coffin.

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VIDEO: Weeks of anticipation were finally over today as archaeologists removed the lid of the Roman child’s coffin – to discover it was full of silt.

Experts were unsurprised by this, saying that if any of the skeleton remained, it would be right at the bottom of the coffin.

Now begins the painstaking work to uncover the secrets of the artefact, which was dug up from a field in Witherley and is believed to be between 1600 and 1900 years old.

Soil micromorphology, inorganic geochemical testing and trace organic chemical analyses will be used to find out more about the historic find which was uncovered by metal detectorist Chris Wright at the site just six miles from Tamworth.

The Herald travelled to Warwick this morning to see the coffin opened.

The lead is the lining of the original wooden coffin, of which all that remains are the rusty Roman nails.

Stuart Palmer, business manager from Archaeology Warwickshire described the find as ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity,’ saying that only a ‘handful’ of Roman child’s coffins have ever been found in Britain.

He said: “We were expecting to just see silt when we opened the coffin as we had already put an endoscope in the end of it

“We may find bones, but perhaps not, as because it was a child’s body the bones would not have fused together properly and so they would have fallen apart.”

The coffin was discovered three weeks ago and a team from the University of York InterArchive – Archaeology project are to carry out forensic tests which could give the scientists and historians a fascinating insight into the life and death of a child from Roman Britain.

Stuart added: “As the body decomposes, it will leave traces in the soil which chemical testing can discover – we could find the cause of death. There is a slim chance that the child could have been buried with something important to that child, so we could find that.

“Taking samples from the coffin will take the best part of two days, but analysis could take months.

“A lead-lined coffin would indicate wealth. We know there was a Roman fort in Mancetter which is not far away and there would have been Roman villas in the area. There was a thriving pottery industry in the area and could have been significant wealth.

“We assume that the average Roman child would have been buried in just a wooden box, or possibly just a shroud.”

Archaeologist Rob Jones said the find was one of the most exciting of his 27 year career.

He said: “It took eight of us to lift it out of the ground and I had to make a box to slide it into as the lead was very fragile.

“It’s not the sort of thing you come across very often and it’s really exciting – on a scale of one to ten, it’s definitely a nine!”

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