Roman Western cemetery summary

This Romano-British cemetery lies outside the western boundary of the first city in the Roman province, Londinium. It is situated in the area now covered by Atlantic House, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and Little Britain, at the western end of the modern City of London.

Excavations in the area of the western Roman cemetery have been carried out at several sites over the last 30 years. Initially, excavations were carried out by the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA), with later sites excavated by Museum of London Archaeology Services (MoLAS).

The cemetery is believed to have developed adjacent to the road linking London to Silchester. The site of Britannia House (OBL97) provides the earliest dating evidence (late 1st century AD) for the cemetery, and is also believed to reflect the eastern most extent of the cemetery. Dating evidence from burials indicates the area remained in use as an organised urban cemetery into the early 5th century AD.

Burial practices within the cemetery consisted of cremations and inhumations (east-west and north-south), methods used throughout the Roman Empire. Many burials contained grave goods including: a cupped-mouth, ring-necked flagon, ceramics, a chicken skeleton, jewellery (including jet, silver and copper-alloy materials), a bone pin, toys, a miniature bronze bell, coins, bone combs and glass.

Preservation

Preservation of the human skeletal remains varied considerably, with the majority of individuals being represented by less than 50% of the skeleton. Consequently, approximately one third of the individuals were unable to be sexed, although they were observed to be of adult age (>18). There were no obvious distinctions between adult males and females or subadults when considering preservation.

Graph of skeletal completeness for Roman west cemetery

Figure 1 Skeletal completeness (N=137)

Demography

Individuals of all age groups, except those under one year, were observed - the vast majority of which were adults. In the adult categories, mortality increased with age up to the 36-45 year group, after which the rate appeared to drop off suddenly with comparatively few individuals over 46 years represented.

Graph of age distribution for Roman West cemetery

Figure 2 Age distribution (N=137)

Age N= %
Perinatal 0 0
1-6 month 0 0
7-11 month 0 0
1-5 years 8 5.8
6-11 years 7 5.1
12-17 years 12 8.8
18-25 years 5 3.6
26-35 years 7 5.1
36-45 years 16 11.7
>46 years 3 2.2
Adult 74 54
Sub adult 5 3.6

Table 1 Age distribution (N=137)

Graph of gender distribution for Roman West cemetery

Figure 3 Male and female distribution by age in the adult population (N=105)


All Adults Male Female
18-25 years 5 2 2
26-35 years 7 1 5
36-45 years 16 5 10
>46 years 3 0 2
Unaged adults 74 22 8
Total 105 30 27

Table 2 Male and female distribution by age in the adult population

Stature

Sex Avg_stat SD VAR MIN MAX N
Female 165.8 8.9 79.6 159.5 172.1 2
Male 168.9 5.9 34.9 164 175.9 4

Table 3 Stature estimation by femoral length

Pathology

Healed fractures appeared to have been largely limited to males with a rate of 27%, although a further 4 unaged adults also exhibited healed fractures.

One very well-preserved case of multiple myeloma was observed in an adult male, exhibiting classic characteristics of this blood disorder.

One adolescent individual exhibited evidence of widespread systemic infection. Suggestive of differential diagnosis of secondary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy is now suggested.

Vertebral osteoarthritis was most frequently observed in males (37%), who had the highest rates of all vertebral pathology; they were the only sex to have evidence for spinal fusion.

Table of Roman western cemetery (Word 80kb)

Vertebral pathology

All adults Male Female
N n % N n % N n %
Osteoarthritis 59 16 27.1 27 10 37 20 3 15
Osteophytosis 59 46 78 27 23 85.2 20 14 70
IVD 59 38 64.4 27 18 66.7 20 13 65
Schmorl's nodes 59 26 44.1 27 13 48.1 20 7 35
Fusion 59 2 3.4 27 2 7.4 20 0 0

Table 4 Distribution of vertebral pathology by sex in adults with one or more vertebrae present

Dental pathology

Over half of all adults with teeth showed evidence of dental caries with males exhibiting a higher prevalence than females. One third of subadults exhibited carious lesions. Over 90% of all adults and three quarters of subadults exhibited evidence of calculus.

Dental enamel hypoplasia rates were high (c.80%) and similar for males, females and subadults, suggesting children were consistently exposed to periods of stress or ill health. At least four individuals (2 older adult males, 1 older adult female and 1 subadult) exhibited unusually severe wear to anterior maxillary teeth.

Caries Calculus Hypoplasia Periodotitis Periapical lesions
N= n= % N= n= % N= n= % N= n= % N= n= %
Male 28 18 64.3 28 27 96.4 28 23 82.1 28 20 71.4 28 10 35.7
Female 15 7 46.7 15 15 100 15 12 80.0 15 10 66.7 15 4 26.7
All adults 54 29 53.7 54 51 94.4 54 40 74.1 54 33 61.1 54 15 27.8
Sub adults 21 7 33.3 21 16 76.2 21 17 81.0 21 6 28.6 21 1 4.8

Table 4 Distribution of vertebral pathology by sex in adults with one or more vertebrae present

Conclusion

In general, the remains recovered and analysed so far from the western Roman cemetery appear to conform to observations made within other Roman London cemeteries and other cemeteries in the South East (Barber & Bowsher, 2000; Mackinder, 2000; Taylor, 2001). There are, however, differences observed when the data is compared to smaller town cemeteries from the Romano-British period such as Poundbury Camp (Redfern, 2008).

As Watson (2003: 38) points out, these distinctions are most likely a consequence of the much larger, urban population that the western cemetery served. London’s inhabitants would have been more cosmopolitan. The sample size is relatively small compared to the northern and eastern cemeteries but it is highly likely future excavations will add to it.

Links to excavations carried out on this cemetery

Archaeological excavations carried out at the following locations recovered material from this cemetery. Click on the sitecode links to see a summary of the excavation.

  • Atlantic House, 46-50 Holborn Viaduct, EC1
    Sitecode: ATC97
  • Barnard's Inn, 78-81, 85-90 Fetter Lane, 7-13 Norwich Street, EC1
    Sitecode: BAA87
  • St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School,
    Giltspur Street, EC1
    Sitecode: BAR79
  • Britannia House, 16-18 Old Bailey, EC4
    Sitecode: OBL97
  • 1-3 Snow Hill, EC1
    Sitecode: SWH86
  • 24-30 West Smithfield, 1-4 Giltspur Street, 18-20 Cock Lane, EC1
    Sitecode: WES89

Recorded by: Mikulski, R and Redfern, R.C.
Last updated: 1st July 2009 RCR
Text: Redfern, R.C. and Mikulski, R