In an isolated field near a Roman villa in Wales, archaeologists have discovered the skeleton of a man buried face down. Adorned with a silver pin and sword, he may have been a Roman soldier—but the large nails near his neck, back, and feet provide tantalizing evidence that he was bound at death.
This burial and four others, dating from the middle of the third to late fourth centuries, were discovered Red River Archeology, a UK-based antiquities company, during a road improvement project near the town of Barry in South Wales. Archaeologists believe that the burials may be associated with Wheaton Lodge Roman Villawhich was originally excavated half a century ago.
The man, whose age was estimated to be between 21 and 25 at his death, was placed in a rock-hewn tomb that may have been surrounded by planks, based on the discovery of nails at the top and bottom of the hole, according to The Guardian. Mark Collard, managing director of Red River Archeology. In an email to Live Science, Collard noted, “The show [facedown] The placement of very large nails at the back of the neck, shoulder, and between the feet may indicate limitations.”
Contrary to the interpretation of a non-elite or slave individual, the man’s personal ornaments—an iron sword, spiked shoes, and a silver crossbow brooch—suggest that he may have been an elite member of the Roman army.
Evan Chapman“This is the first example of a Roman silver crossbow brooch to be found in Wales,” Amgueddfa Cymru, Senior Curator of Archeology – Museum of Wales, said in a statement. These pins, most likely used to fasten a cloak, were often associated with the Roman army. “The presence of the sword would support the military connection in this case,” Chapman said.
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Direct analysis of the man’s bones and teeth revealed more details about his life. For example, he was suffering from mastoiditis, a bacterial infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear, when he died. This condition can be easily treated with antibiotics today Roman timeIt could have been a death sentence.
Analysis of isotopes – elements with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei – of the man’s bones and tooth enamel showed that it “probably originated in the East, perhaps from the borders of Wales or beyond.” Rachel MorganThe archaeologist with the Red River Archeology Project said in the statement. “So what was this rich man doing on a farm in South Wales when he died?”
It is not uncommon to find Roman burials outside of formal cemeteries. The man’s prone position — as well as the discovery of a nearby grave with a decapitated individual whose skull was placed at his feet — is noteworthy, Collard said, as other Roman burials in Britain also indicate “a clear association between the occurrence of decapitated burials”.
For example, another group of Romano-British tombs in Knob farmjust north of Cambridge, in 2021 it had Too many burials are out of the ordinary. Of the total 52 buried there, 13 (25%) were exposed, while 17 (33%) were beheaded. Researchers began to pay more attention to Atypical burial patterns in Western Europe during the Roman period, but so far, no single explanation has been found for these types of burials. Whether it was for low-status individuals, criminals, or those whose societies wanted to ensure that they “stay dead,” cross-cultural exposure burial is never seen as a positive way of disposing of the dead.
So this Roman soldier is a dark mystery—perhaps never to be solved. “It’s interesting that he was buried prone but still with his regalia,” said Collard. “It raises more questions than answers!”
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