A previously undiscovered 1,600-year-old burial site in northern England could provide important clues to a largely undocumented period in British history, officials announced this week.
The government in Leeds, a city about an hour north-east of Manchester, announced on Monday that archaeologists have excavated a historic cemetery in the area believed to contain the remains of more than 60 men, women and children who lived there more than a millennium ago.
Among the archaeologists’ finds was one particularly notable discovery: an ancient lead coffin believed to contain the remains of an aristocratic woman from the later years of the Roman Empire.
The site appeared to contain remains of both Roman and Anglo-Saxon people, the City of Leeds said in a press release, noting that different burial customs associated with each cultural group indicated some remains dated to the late Roman Empire and early Anglo-Saxon Saxon kingdoms that arose afterwards. Archaeologists made the discovery while working on a wider dig near Garforth in Leeds in spring last year, the city said.
Officials had kept news of their discovery under wraps to protect the site’s anonymity while initial tests were underway to learn more about the archaeological finds and their significance, the city said. Now that the excavation is complete, experts will analyze the remains and use carbon dating to more accurately determine how old they are, officials said. The remains also undergo “detailed chemical testing that can determine extraordinary details such as individual diet and parentage.”
The ancient burial site at Leeds may ultimately help clarify details about an important period in British history as the Roman Empire transitioned to subsequent Anglo-Saxon communities.
“Archaeologists hope the site can help them chart the largely undocumented and extremely important transition between the fall of the Roman Empire around AD 400 and the subsequent establishment of the famous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms,” the City of Leeds said in its announcement this week.
Roman Britain was a period lasting almost 400 years at the start of the current era when large parts of the island were occupied by the Roman Empire. Although occupation left a deep mark on British culture, the later transition from Roman occupation to Anglo-Saxon settlements remains a little-known period of British history.
“This has the potential to be a find of enormous importance for what we understand about the development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire,” said David Hunter, the lead archaeologist at West Yorkshire Joint Services, in a statement accompanying the announcement Week was attached by the City of Leeds. Yorkshire is the county where Leeds is located.
“The existence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual, and whether or not their uses of this cemetery overlapped will determine the significance of the find. Viewed together, the burials demonstrate the complexity and precariousness of life during this dynamic period in Yorkshire history,” Hunter continued. “The lead coffin itself is extremely rare, so this was a truly exceptional excavation.”
CBS News contacted the City of Leeds for further comment but did not receive an immediate response.
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