The ‘internationally significant’ find, which was discovered by builders working on a home extension in the village of Great Casterton, is rare and valuable proof of slavery in Roman Britain.
In Rutland, archaeologists discovered an ‘exceptionally unusual’ skeleton of a Roman slave, who could have been a criminal thrown to a degrading death. The enslaved man appears to have been dumped in a ditch, his ankles tied with thick, locked iron fetters.
He was discovered in an “awkward” burial position—somewhat on his right side, with his left side and arm elevated on a slope—implying that he was buried in a ditch rather than a traditional grave.
The police were called, and radiocarbon analysis revealed that the remains dated from AD226 to AD427. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has also been enlisted to extensively examine the internationally noteworthy find using X-rays and other techniques.
There are still some unanswered questions about the Great Casterton man, but it was “extraordinary” proof of mistreatment.”For living wearers, shackles were both a form of imprisonment and a method of punishment, a source of discomfort, pain and stigma which may have left scars even after they had been removed,” said Michael Marshall, a finds specialist at MOLA.
“However, the discovery of shackles in a burial suggests that they may have been used to exert power over dead bodies as well as the living, hinting that some of the symbolic consequences of imprisonment and slavery could extend even beyond death.”
The man appeared to be between the ages of 26 and 35, according to Chinnock, an expert in ancient bones and had had a physically demanding life. A fall or impact to the upper leg bone may have generated a bony spur, or it could result from a life of extreme physical activity. By the time he died, the injury had healed, and the cause of death was unknown.
The man’s identity will never be known, per the Mola team, but “the various pieces of evidence present the most convincing case for the remains of a Roman slave yet to be found in Britain.”
“The chance discovery of a burial of an enslaved person at Great Casterton reminds us that even though the remains of enslaved people can often be difficult to identify, that they existed during the Roman period in Britain is unquestionable,” said MOLA Archaeologist Chris Chinnock.
“Therefore, the questions we attempt to address from the archaeological remains can, and should, recognise the role slavery has played throughout history.”
It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that those who got rid of the shackled man “really hated him and were really keen to make that obvious, whether to other people or in the longer, more spiritual sense.”