The skeleton of the unidentified woman, believed to be more than 1,000 years old, was found in a lead coffin in a hidden tomb in the city of Leeds last year.
The remains of 62 people have been found at a previously unknown archaeological site near Garforth. Men, women and 23 children were buried at the site, which was discovered by a team of archaeologists.
The dead are thought to include people from the late Roman and early Saxon periods, as the burial customs of both eras are found in graves, according to press release Posted by Leeds City Council on Monday.
David Hunter, principal archaeologist at West Yorkshire Joint Services, told CNN Monday the discovery came to light after a commercial developer applied for planning permission to the council.
An archaeological survey of the site—the exact location has not been revealed—led to the remains being found this past spring.
“We definitely got more than we bargained for,” Hunter told CNN. He said his team has reason to believe the site may be of archaeological interest, as they found Roman and Anglo-Saxon structures nearby in earlier excavations. “But we did not expect to find 62 graves at this site,” he added.
The team said that evidence of burial practices found at the site could point to early Christian beliefs, along with Saxon burials. They also found personal belongings such as knives and pottery.
Describing a lead sarcophagus as “very rare,” Hunter said: “The lead lid is the lining of a larger wooden coffin, so it’s a very high-status Roman object.”
The coffin also contained pieces of jewelry that reinforced the team’s suspicions about the person buried inside.
Archaeologists hope the 1,600-year-old tomb will help them understand the important and largely undocumented transition between the fall of the Roman Empire in about 400 and the establishment of the later Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
After the Romans left Britain, West Yorkshire lay in the Kingdom of Elmet, which was located between the Wharf, Dun Falaise, York Valley and Benin, according to the press release.
Even after the Romans left, many regions, including Elmet, continued to display elements of Roman culture – along with that of the Anglo-Saxons. This went on for about 200 years.
Describing the dig as “extraordinary,” Hunter said: “This is potentially a discovery of great importance to our understanding of the development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire.
“Having two communities using the same burial site is very unusual and whether or not their use of this tomb overlapped will determine the significance of the find.”
The remains will undergo testing and analysis, including carbon dating, which the team hopes will help establish precise time frames, as well as details of the individuals’ diet and their ancestors.
The excavation of the site was prompted in part by the fact that earlier excavations in the vicinity had turned up Late Romanesque stone buildings and a small number of structures of Anglo-Saxon style. The results have just been announced because the site had to remain secure so that the initial tests could be carried out.
“Every archaeologist’s dream is to work on a ‘once in a lifetime’ site, and supervising these excavations is certainly a high career for me,” Kylie Buxton, the site’s supervisor, said in the release.
Once analysis of the find is complete — a process that could take a year or two, according to Hunter — the main sarcophagus is expected to be on display at Leeds City Museum.
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