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Ilchester lead coffins


Lead coffins were not that common in Roman Britain with around 300 discovered across the UK. The last discovery in Somerset was in 1989 and after a 25-year absence two coffins were found within 12 months of each other.


Both were discovered by metal detectorists near Ilchester which was an important town in Roman Somerset, second only to Bath. It was considerably larger than the current town of Ilchester and Roman remains have been found alongside all the Fosse Way and the Roman road to Yeovil and Dorchester.


Working with the Biological Anthropology Research Centre at the University of Bradford detailed investigation and analysis has been completed for the first coffin (found in 2013.) This film follows the opening and excavation of the coffin and the discovery of a young woman’s skeleton. 


A detailed investigation of the second lead coffin (found in 2014) is currently underway and we are working with a small group of archaeology students from Richard Huish College, in Taunton, to record this burial and prepare it for analysis. This coffin was badly damaged, broken into several pieces, by the weight of tractors ploughing over many years. The 2013 coffin was in much better condition. 


Roman coffins can date from anytime within the Roman period (circa AD 43 – 410) but are particularly common in the third and fourth century AD. It is likely that the lead for these coffins came from the Charterhouse area on Mendip, with detailed scientific analysis of the lead yet to be carried out. The lead material also indicates an individual of some status. 


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