Roman Cremation Urns

PRESS RELEASE: 17 January 2012

Wiltshire Council Conservation Service and BMI The Bath Clinic are helping uncover the secrets locked inside five ancient burial urns dating back to the Roman conquest found at the site of Linden Homes’ King Harry Lane development in St Albans.

Foundations Archaeology, which has been working on the site for some time, has enlisted the help of council experts to determine whether the remains inside the cremation urns belong to adults or children and to find out more detail about their lives.

Kelly Abbott, contract conservator with the Wiltshire Council Conservation Service said: “Unlocking the mystery of these urns could provide a fascinating glimpse of life during the time of the Roman Conquest. BMI The Bath Clinic in Bath has kindly agreed to allow us to use their CT scanner. This will help determine if the cremations inside can be identified as either adults or children.

"The site which the urns came from can be dated back to the Roman Conquest in 43AD. Information has already been gleaned from the archaeological dig and other finds from the site. The images from the CT scan will provide a much more detailed picture of what the urns contain and will be used by the conservators at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre to help reveal their contents.”

Rod Mason, executive director of BMI The Bath Clinic said: “We’re delighted to donate the use of our scanner for this project. It’s state of the art technology and it has proved invaluable in helping us provide our patients with more accurate and speedy diagnoses.

“It’s very exciting to think that the technology can also be used to help unlock the mysteries of the Roman Conquest and life in Britain at that point in history.”

As part of the redevelopment of the King Harry Lane site, Linden Homes has established a detailed archaeological brief. Jeremy Alden, Linden Homes technical director, noted: “We have spent a great deal of time liaising with  archaeologists to ensure a robust dig was successfully concluded as part of the redevelopment process. We are delighted that finds of such significance have been uncovered intact and with the help of  Foundations Archaeology and the Wiltshire Conservation Service can be properly interpreted and lead to a greater understanding of our past.”

Using the CT images to guide them, the conservators at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre will excavate the urns on a microscopic scale, detailing their contents and making the finds stable. Once the cremations have been removed from the urns, the bones will be cleaned and dried under laboratory conditions. The information gathered from this micro-excavation will then be sent to the archaeologists who will be able to interpret the evidence alongside the archaeology already discovered.

Archaeologists have determined that the site King Harry Lane, was of significant importance. The cremation urns were found at a burial ground, located at the entrance to a late Iron Age ‘oppidum’ or defended settlement . St Albans, known as Verulamium, was a key site in the Roman period and as such, these cremation urns, along with the other archaeology on the site, are seen to be nationally important.