LONDON — Newly revealed human remains may offer a rare glimpse of life in Britain through the decline of the roman empires and the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Experts have hailed the 1,600-year-old burial ground that was unearthed near the city of Leeds, some 200 miles north of London, as a “once-in-a-lifetime” find bridging the gap between the ancient and medieval periods.
Among the remains of more than 60 men, women and children is what is believed to be a late Roman aristocratic woman, Leeds City Council said in a statement. statements Monday.
The woman was found inside an ancient lead coffin at the archaeological dig near the Leeds suburb of Garforth.
The site could also indicate early Christian and Saxon burial rituals, authorities said, and marks an important crossroads in a little-known period when the Roman Empire began its gradual decline and eventual collapse in the West, as tribes Germanic peoples migrated from continental Europe.
England derives its name from one of the main groups that arrived from present-day Denmark and Germany after the fifth century: the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes.
“Every archaeologist’s dream is to work on a once-in-a-lifetime site, and supervising these excavations is definitely a career milestone for me,” Kylie Buxton, on-site supervisor for the excavations, said in a press release.
“There’s always the possibility of finding burials, but to have discovered such an important cemetery, at a time of transition like that, was pretty incredible.”
Carbon dating to establish the precise timing of the burials is underway, as is chemical testing that will hopefully shed light on dietary habits and ancestry.
The site was discovered in the spring of 2022, but no announcement has been made so far in an attempt to preserve the site while testing is underway. The exact location of the site has not been revealed, but remains of late Roman and Anglo-Saxon buildings have been found nearby.
“This has the potential to be a find of great importance to our understanding of the development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire,” said David Hunter, senior archaeologist at West Yorkshire Joint Services.
“The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether or not the use of this cemetery overlapped will determine how significant the find is.”
Once the analysis has been carried out, there are plans to display the lead coffin at the Leeds City Museum in an exhibition on the customs of death around the world.
The Saxons tended to bury their dead with items of special importance such as knives and pottery. The most famous Anglo-Saxon burial site, Sutton Hoo, believed to be a burial ship honoring the 7th century King Rædwald, contained a fabulous collection of jeweled helmets and weapons.
Claudius, the fourth Roman emperor, began his invasion of Britain in AD 43, reportedly using an army of up to 20,000 men and even armored elephants. By the dawn of the first century, Rome had established power over it in southern Britain and all the way to the disputed northern area, later bounded by a massive wall built by the Emperor Hadrian.
That control ended abruptly in AD 409-10 when Rome’s military might waned, with the empire distracted by the pressure of barbarian invaders in Italy and Gaul.
The empire would survive another 1,000 years from its eastern power base of Constantinople, but could only survive by limping in the West for decades. Roman aristocrats fled Britain as towns and villages collapsed and buried what they could not take with them.
Leeds is believed to have been the center of the mysterious Celtic kingdom of Elmet, one of several entities established after the collapse of Roman control but before the rule of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms or the arrival of the Vikings in the 8th century.
Experts will investigate whether the newly found graves offer further evidence of how the people of Elmet lived alongside their Saxon neighbours, at a time when England was rapidly leaving its pagan traditions behind and converting to Christianity.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com