Roman Southern cemetery summary

The Southern Roman Cemetery incorporates the burials on the South Bank of the Thames in the modern boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. The extent of the cemetery area is not known at present as there is no known fixed boundary to Roman Southwark. Currently, recorded burials date from the 1st century through to the late 4th century AD.

Sites were initially excavated by the DGLA, with later excavations carried out by MoLAS. They include single inhumation or cremation burials, as well as multiple burial complexes, with many situated along the routes of Roman Stane Street and Watling Street. A number of burials were also sited south of the junction of these two roads. Some further burials were recorded along the road thought to run from the Southwark bridgehead to Lambeth.

Evidence for mausolea, coffins and the use of chalk-lined burials was recorded. Burials were generally aligned along either north-south or east-west axes with grave goods including ceramics, lamps, jet, glass, copper and iron jewellery, hobnails, flint, worked bone and coins.

Preservation

Completeness varied widely, with the majority of sexed adults represented by 15% to 55% of the skeleton. Subadults were generally represented by less than 40% of the skelton, although 5 subadult individuals exhibited were represented by 70% to 80% of the bones.

Preservation N= %
Good 39 84.8
Medium 4 8.7
Poor 3 6.5
Table 1 Skeletal preservation

Figure 1 Skeletal completeness (N=46)

Demography

The age profile of the southern cemetery exhibits a relatively even spread of individuals throughout the subadult and adult age categories with the exception of the early post-natal period, where no neonates or infants under the age of 1 were observed.

The extremes of the age spectrum also appear to show a decrease in numbers with only 2 perinatal individuals present and a single individual aged over 46 years. The ratio between males and females was roughly even throughout all age categories.

Figure 2 Age distribution (N=46)

Age N= %
Perinatal 2 4.3
1-6 month 0 0.0
7-11 month 0 0.0
1-5 years 6 13.0
6-11 years 4 8.7
12-17 years 6 13.0
18-25 years 6 13.0
26-35 years 4 8.7
36-45 years 8 17.4
>46 years 1 2.2
Adult 9 19.6
Sub adult 0 0.0
Table 2 Age distribution (N=46)

Figure 3 Male and female distribution of adults (N=28)

All adults % Male % Female %
18-25 years 6 21.4 4 36.4 2 20.0
26-35 years 4 14.3 2 18.2 2 20.0
36-45 years 8 28.6 3 27.3 5 50.0
>46 years 1 3.6 1 9.1 0 0.0
Unassigned Adults 9 32.1 1 9.1 1 10.0
Total 28 11 10
Table 3 Male and female distribution by age in the adult population

Stature

The average female stature was markedly higher than that reported by White (1998) for Roman London females. No measurements were able to be made of male femurs and consequently average male stature has not been estimated.

Sex Avg_stat SD VAR MIN MAX N
Female 164.8 5.7 32.1 156.6 169.0 4
Male 0
Table 4 Stature estimation from femoral length

Pathology

43.5% of all individuals exhibited evidence of non-specific infection. Gout was present and demonstrated a prevalence rate of 4.3% for the whole sample and 18.2% for male adults. 8.7% of the total sample had osteoarthritis. The prevalence rate for cribra orbitalia varied between 15.2% and 23.9%, with females exhibiting slightly higher rates and subadults showing a rate of between 22.2% and 33.3%.

Roman south pathology table (Word 67kb)

Vertebral pathology

Rates were comparable between males and females for vertebral osteophytosis, intervertebral disease and intervertebral fusion, while males exhibited higher prevalences of osteoarthritis and especially Schmorl’s nodes.

All adults Male Female
N n % N n % N n %
Osteoarthritis 139 40 28.8 70 22 31.4 62 14 22.6
Osteophytosis 139 94 67.6 70 50 71.4 62 41 66.1
IVD 139 51 36.7 70 26 37.1 62 23 37.1
Schmorl's nodes 139 60 43.2 70 39 55.7 62 18 29.0
Fusion 139 9 6.5 70 5 7.1 62 4 6.5
Table 5 Distribution of vertebral pathology by sex in adults with one or more vertebrae present

Dental pathology

50% of all adults exhibited dental caries, with males showing a higher prevalence (62.5%) than females (37.5%). The subadults exhibited a dental caries rate of 25%. All adults exhibited evidence of calculus deposition, with a lower rate of 87.5% in subadults. The prevalence of dental enamel hypoplasia was particularly high in females (87.5%), and slightly lower in males (62.5%), while subadults showed a rate of 75%.

Caries Calculus Hypoplasia Periodotitis Periapical lesions
N n % N n % N n % N n % N n %
Male 8 5 62.5 8 8 100.0 8 5 62.5 8 8 100.0 8 1 12.5
Female 8 3 37.5 8 8 100.0 8 7 87.5 8 5 62.5 8 1 12.5
All adults 16 8 50.0 16 16 100.0 12 12 100.0 16 13 81.3 16 2 12.5
Sub adults 8 2 25.0 8 7 87.5 8 6 75.0 8 7 87.5 8 0 0.0

Table 6 Distribution of dental pathology in sub adults and adults

Discussion

Location of the burials at great Dover Street (GDV96) and the presence of evidence for mausolea there suggests the possibility of a high status or wealthy cemetery population (Niblett, 1999).

White (2000) also notes the Great Dover Street site as being remarkable in showing no excess of males over females within the cemetery and therefore comparable to Ancaster cemetery (Cox, 1989).

The high proportion of subadults at this particular site in Roman southwark, also suggests the possibility of familial relationships within a high status cemetery or an alternative form of zoning impacting upon the cemetery population. There is also some potential for investigation of familial relationships through analysis of grouped clusters of burials (White, 2000).

Links to excavations carried out on this cemetery

Site codes:

  • Courage Brewery (south east), Park Street, SE1
    Sitecode COSE84
  • 165 Great Dover Street, SE1
    Sitecode GDV96
  • Guy's Hospital Redevelopment (Area 7), St Thomas Street, SE1
    Sitecode GHR82
  • Harper Road, SE1
    Sitecode HR77
  • Redcross Way, SE1
    Sitecode REW92
  • Grouting Shaft, Redcross Way, SE1
    Sitecode RWG94
  • Swan Street, Great Dover Street (junction), SE1
    Sitecode SS73
  • The Trocette, Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey Street, (corner of), SE1
    Sitecode TOB95

Recorded by: Mikulski, R.
Text by: Redfern, R.C. Mikulski, R
Last updated: 28 January 2009