In 1979, a student training dig organised by the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee, encountered a unique burial at Harper Road in Southwark. The burial dates from 50 to 70 AD, spanning a critical period in British archaeology, marking the end of Iron Age tribal communities and colonisation by the Roman Empire. Archaeological evidence shows that although the Claudian invasion of Britain happened in 43 AD, the people of Britain continued many of their traditions and culture under the early years of Roman rule.
The burial was positioned on the opposite side of the river to the formal Roman settlement of Londinium, which by 50 AD had only been in existence for less than a decade. In Southwark, a less regimented and ordered settlement had arisen, inhabited by migrants from elsewhere in the Roman Empire, as well Iron Age people, as roundhouses have been found there.
The person had been buried in a coffin and was accompanied by a range of objects, some from the Continent, others from Britain, but all chosen to reflect their status and power. Ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis conducted earlier this year and study of the skeleton’s skull and pelvis have found that the human remains are female, and analysis of her skeleton found that she was between 21 to 38 years old. Previous aDNA work found that she had brown eyes and dark black hair, and by examining the chemicals in her dental enamel, it revealed that she had grown-up in Britain.
The items chosen to accompany her in death show connections to both the Iron Age way of life and the Roman Empire. We know from the writings of Roman authors and archaeological evidence that for some time before the Claudian invasion, the Iron Age communities of southern Britain had close political and trading connections with the Roman Empire. Many leaders and high status people adopted ‘Roman’ habits, such as drinking wine and using olive oil imported from the Mediterranean. Enslaved people and valuable goods were traded for these luxuries.