Kent Archaeological Review extract

A Romano-British Cemetery at Northbourne, Kent.
by Brian Philp.
(Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit.)


This site (NGR TR 329 527) lies at the north-west edge of the parish of Northbourne about one kilometre north-west of the parish church. It occupies the east margin of an open field, forming part of Court Farm, immediately south-west of the 'Mount' crossroads. It lies on the crest of a low chalk ridge, at an elevation of about 42m, which faces northwards across undulating land towards the old Wantsum Channel (Figure 1). Nearer the centre of this field is a pair of ditched enclosures, detected by air survey, which were scheduled as an Ancient Monument in 1973 (Kent Monument 258). The Roman military base at Richborough lies about 8 kilometres to the north and the Roman road from Richborough to Dover about 2 kilometres to the west (Reference 1).

In September, 1974 the Kent County Council Highway and Transportation Department began a minor road improvement scheme on Northbourne Road just south of the actual crossroads. This involved removing a 6 metre strip of ground on the west side of the road for a distance of about 100 metre from the crossroads and tapering to a point at the south end. As the cross-roads lay beneath the chalk crest Northbourne Road necessarily sat in a deep north-south cutting which resulted in a partially blind approach to the crossroads. The new scheme, aimed mainly at improving vision at this dangerous point, required the removal of a depth of about 5m. of natural chalk on the west side of the road. This was done initially by cutting a pair of broad steps with the aid of a mechanical excavator. Several thousand cubic metres of soil and chalk were removed in this manner and the soil taken away by lorry. The final finishes were a steeply graded bank and a new fence some metres inside the line of the original hedge.

Within a few days of work starting, a shallow pit was noticed by Mr Arthur Peel of Sandwich, who reported the matter to Mr K Reedie of Canterbury Museum, who in turn very promptly and correctly reported to the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit at Dover Castle, only a few miles from the site. An immediate site inspection by the writer re-located the pit, which contained potsherds of Iron Age character (Pit E), 27.20 metres south of the centre of the crossroads.

A careful examination was then made of the advancing roadworks along its whole line and at a point 52.20 metres south of the crossroads the top of a Romano- British storage jar was suddenly revealed. The foreman immediately agreed to continue working a few metres further south and a rapid investigation showed that the vessel formed part of a cremation-burial (Burial 7). With the ready consent of everyone concerned, an instant rescue-excavation was then mounted which lasted intermittently from 2nd to 16th October, mostly in heavy rain. The roadworks continued uninterrupted alongside the archaeological work, which jointly revealed a total of fourteen Burials, three Ditches, and five Pits which form the subject of this report. A brief note on the discovery and excavation was published in 1975 (Reference 2.).

DRAWING: Figure 1. Roman Cemetery at Northbourne. Site Plan and Location Yap (inset)..

Figure 1. Roman Cemetery at Northbourne. Site Plan and Location Yap (inset).


Thanks are due initially to Messrs. Peel and Reedie for reporting the discovery of the pit by the crossroads. Secondly, to Mr D Lee, foreman of the road-works and his engineer Mr. Fuggle for their ready practical help and co-operation on site. Next to Unit members Mrs W Williams, Mrs E Philp, Messrs J Gaunt, A Emms and K Nicol for their hard work during the excavation. In particular, Mr John Gaunt, invited to join the operation on the day after the initial discovery, worked throughout the whole period and led several members of the Dover Archaeological Group on a phase of this work over two weekends, of whom John Bray, Keith Parfitt and Ben Stocker deserve special mention. The manager of Court Farm encouraged the work and Hon Christopher James, as owner of the finds, kindly agreed that these could be held for study and publication. The site-plan and grave drawings were prepared on site by Mrs Wendy Williams and traced for publication by Mr John Willson. The pottery has been drawn by Mr Ralph Mills.

The Excavation.

Owing to the pattern of the roadworks the area examined was generally a long narrow north-south strip. The majority of features were, however, concentrated in a zone about 25 x 8 metres (Figure 1) where a total of 21 features were recorded. Of these thirteen were burials, three were small ditches and five were small pits. Another possible burial (Number 14) and three other uncertain features were also recorded. It is possible that both burials and features originally extended to both east and west of this area. On the east side the road and the lower-graded area had been removed many years before the roadworks began. The middle-graded area had been substantially removed by the contractors before watch began, but no burials were seen by the workmen and certainly no deep graves existed there. Only the upper-graded area was examined in detail. In general the undisturbed natural chalk was covered by about 0.50m of mixed brown loam and deposits of orange brickearth.

The Burials.

Evidence for a total of fourteen burials was recovered from the site, thirteen from the excavated area and one from a point about 30m. to the south. Of these nine were certainly inhumations in rectangular graves, three were cremations in large storage vessels and two others were probably inhumations (Numbers 1 and 14). From the plan it seems clear that the graves, if not the cremations, were carefully placed at intervals of about 2 metres from each other. Of the six on the east side five are more or less parallel and aligned east to west and the 6th is at right angles to them, but still maintaining the spacing. The single graves (Numbers 2 and 12) on the north and south sides, respectively are set at a marked angle and tend to suggest the limits of a well defined burial area. The cremations tend to form a small group at the southern end of the area again with a spacing of about 2 metres, but not forming a sensible pattern with the inhumations. Of the eight graves where adequate skeletal remains survived, six had a largely South-West - North-East axis ranging from 41° to 78°, of which four faced west and two faced east. Another burial was aligned roughly North-South (facing north) and the remaining one roughly North-West - South-East (facing South-East). Whilst clearly there was no rigid rule as regards body-orientation, as seems evident in the majority of Anglo-Saxon burials for example, there does seem to have been a preference for graves to face the South-West, perhaps towards the setting sun. The following table gives some of the basic data:

THE BURIALS -- BASIC DATA. A 14-entry table follows showing burial details basic data.
Burial number. Cremation
Axis. Head at. Length. Width. Depth
into chalk.
1.Inh  0.32 (min)0.19 (min)0.03 (min)Largely destroyed. No objects.
2.Inh041°NE2.10 m0.70m2.20mTwo pots & iron nails.
3.Inh067°E2.00m0.80m0.80 (min)Two pots, bracelet & beads.
4.Inh078°E1.80 (min)0.65m 1.00 (min)Two pots, studs & iron nails.
5.Inh159°S2.20m0.62m1.80mIron nails.
6.Inh062°W1.10 (min) 0.64m1.30mTwo pots & iron nails.
7.Cre  0.90m0.88m0.70mhree pots.
8.Inh     No details or objects.
9.Inh062°E2.31m0.75m1.90mIron nails & coffin outline.
10.Cre  0.44m0.44m0.11mTwo pots.
11.Cre     Two pots. No details.
12 .Inh119°NW 0.70 (min)0.56m0.08mNo objects.
13 .Inh055°SW2.08m0.75m2.05mIron nails & coffin outline.
14 .Inh     No details or objects.

All the graves, except one (Number 12) were neatly cut with vertical sides, flat bases and generally well-cut corners. The majority were unusually deep with at least four being dug about 2.00 metres into solid chalk and thus generally about 2.50 metres from present ground-level. Each grave had been back-filled with soil and chalk rubble no doubt derived from the original excavation of the grave.

There was some evidence of wooden coffins in five of the graves. In some of these large iron nails lay roughly horizontally both on the bottom of the grave and at various points up to about 28 centimetres above the base showing where the coffin lids and the bases had been held in place by nails driven in from the sides. Judging by the large size of the nails, mostly 6-13 centimetres, the wood used for the coffins must have been unusually thick, in some cases as much as 5-7 centimetres. In two cases the complete outline of the coffin was detected and sizes of 1.88 by 0.48 by 0.28 and 1.74 by 0.56 by 0.27 were recorded.

Of the eleven burials excavated under satisfactory conditions three were cremations and eight inhumations. Each of the cremation-burials included a large vessel containing the cremated bones and either a small beaker or bottle, or both. Slight traces of chicken, pig and bird bones in at least three of the graves and two of the cremations suggest that food formed part of the burial ritual.

Four of the graves (both males, the adolescent and the indeterminate) contained no grave goods. The other four (all females) each contained two pots, mostly beakers, bottles or bowls. One female grave (Number 3) also contained a bracelet and a glass necklace. Another female appears to have been buried wearing sandals (Number 4).

Of the fourteen individuals represented twelve were adults, one an adolescent, one uncertain and no children. All three cremations were of adults. The only two males were 30-35 and 35-40 years respectively. Of five certain females two were only 20-25 and three over 40. Of the other two adults one was 20-25 years old.

As regards stature the males were 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 8 ¼ inches and the females 5 feet 2 inches, 5 feet 5 ½ inches and 5 feet 7 inches respectively. One female showed signs of spina bifida and two others traces of osteo-arthritis.

Burial 1.

Probable inhumation. The corner of a shallow pit, some 0.03 metres deep, of which only 0.32 metres by 0.19 metres survived in plan on the edge of the roadworks. The fill of orange-brown loam contained part of a human skull and other fragments, identified as an adult female over 40 years of age. No associated finds.

Burial 2.

Inhumation in sub-rectangular grave with nearly vertical sides and slightly cupped base. Fill of chalk rubble and brown loam. Two iron nails suggest a coffin. Adult skeleton of female in good condition, aged over 40 years and about 5 feet 5 ½ inches in height. Supine, head rolled to right, arms straight by sides. Legs straight, but right leg splayed.

Two pots (Numbers 1 and 2) outside left ankle and touching side of grave, probably placed outside presumed coffin. Located and recorded by J Gaunt after main excavation completed.

Burial 3.

Inhumation in well-cut rectangular grave with rounded corners. Nearly vertical sides and flat base. Width at east end 0.72 metres, centre 0.81 metres and west end 0.80 metres. Fill of orange clay and chalk rubble; no suggestion of a coffin. Adult skeleton of a female, in good condition, aged 20-25 years and about 5 feet 2 inches in height. Supine, with head to right. Arms by sides with hands on pelvis. Legs straight.

A flagon, placed inside a dish (Numbers 3 and 4) on right pelvis. Twisted iron-bronze bracelet (Number 5) on spinal cord, originally placed on chest. Single bead on left shoulder, single bead on ribs, two on spine under bracelet, six nearby on ribs and eleven more found when skeleton lifted (21 in all). Thin pieces of bronze chain found in association with the beads suggest a broken necklace (Number 6) originally complete placed on chest. Some 17 sherds of pottery, mostly calcite gritted wares, were found scattered in the upper fill of this grave and probably represent material derived from the Iron Age site.

DRAWING: Figure 2. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Plans of Burials.

Figure 2. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Plans of Burials.

Burial 4.

Inhumation in neat, rectangular grave with rounded corners, east end destroyed by contractors. Vertical sides and flat base. Fill of chalk rubble and brown loam. Adult skeleton of female aged 20-25 years and 5 foot 7 inches in height. Supine (head destroyed) with legs straight and feet resting on soil slightly higher than bottom of grave. Two pots (Numbers 7 & 8) found touching left leg. Small group of twelve iron studs by feet may represent remains of sandals or boots. Four iron nails (Numbers 9 & 10) astride right leg suggest presence of wooden container placed in grave by pots. Otherwise no suggestion of a coffin.

Burial 5.

Inhumation in well-cut rectangular grave with rounded corners, vertical sides and flat base. Width 0.62 metres at south and centre, but reduce slightly at north end. Fill of chalk rubble and brown loam. Six iron nails (Numbers 11 & 12) mostly 11-13 centimetres long suggest presence of a wooden coffin. Adult skeleton of male, aged about 30-35 years and 5 foot 7 inches in height. Upper part of skeleton missing and head found 0.35 centimetres above base of grave, suggesting disturbance perhaps by animals. Supine, with lower arms on waist and hands on pelvis. Legs straight. No grave goods.

Burial 6.

Inhumation in rectangular grave with roughly squared corners, vertical sides and flat base, but east end destroyed by contractors. Fill of chalk rubble and brown loam. Adult skeleton of female, over 40 years. Supine, head rolled to right. Right arm by side, left arm across waist (legs disturbed by contractors). Two pots (Numbers 13 & 14) in corner of grave by head, probably placed outside a coffin. Five iron nails, mostly 6-8 centimetres long (Number 15), suggest a coffin roughly 0.40 metres in overall width.

Burial 7 (Section 3).

Cremation in roughly circular pit, with steep sides and cupped base (Layer 5). Cremated adult bones placed in large storage vessel (Number 16) together with two small pots (Numbers 17 & 18). Small fragments of molten lead mixed with the bones suggests that a lead object, perhaps a dish or container, had been placed on the funeral pyre.

Burial 8.

Inhumation. Fragmentary skeleton, probably adult. Sherds of coarse cooking-pot. No other details. Recovered by J Gaunt from contractors excavation.

Burial 9.

Inhumation in well-cut rectangular grave with neatly cut corners. Vertical sides and flat base. Fill of chalk rubble and loam. Adult skeleton of male, aged 35-40 years and about 5 foot 8 ¼ inches in height. Supine, head rolled to left. Arms and legs straight. No grave goods.

Clear outline of wooden coffin revealed by dense chalk rubble packing on outside and slightly darker mixed soil defining the inside. Outline measured 1.88 by 0.48 metres and a minimum of 0.28 deep. Eleven large iron nails (Numbers 19 & 20), mostly 11-16 centimetres long, lying horizontally at the base of the grave and also at various levels above, suggest that the coffin base and top were held in place by nails driven in from the sides.

Burial 10.

Cremation in roughly circular pit, damaged by contractors. Cremated bones of adult, or sub-adult, placed in large storage vessel (Number 21) and accompanied by a small bottle (Number 22).

Burial 11.

Cremation in roughly circular pit, uncovered by contractors and removed by J Gaunt. Cremated bones of adult, possibly female, placed inside large storage jar (Number 23) with smaller vessel (Number 24). Bottle placed against outside of storage vessel (Number 25).

Burial 12.

Inhumation in sub-rectangular shallow grave, damaged by contractors. Fill orange-brown clay-loam. Largely complete skeleton, aged about 14 years of un- certain sex. Supine, right arm slightly bent, left arm across waist. Legs straight. No grave goods or evidence of coffin.

DRAWING: Figure  3. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Plans of Burials (1/3).

Figure 3. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Plans of Burials (1/3).

Burial 13.

Inhumation in rectangular, well-cut grave with square corners, vertical sides and a flat base. Fill of chalk rubble and loam. Partial skeleton of adult, aged 20-25 years. Supine, legs straight. No grave goods. Clear outline of wooden coffin, defined by chalk rubble packing and mixed soil fill, 1.74 by 0.56 metres in plan. Eighteen large iron nails (Numbers 26 & 27), mostly 11-15centimetres in length, were found at two main levels. Eight lay horizontally on the bottom of the grave and the rest mainly 13-27 centimetres above the bottom. This also suggests that both the lid and the base of the coffin were held by nails driven through the sides.

Burial 14 (Not on Plan ).

Possible inhumation uncovered by workmen well to the south of the main burials. No other details. Adult, perhaps female.

Other Features ( Figure 4 ).

In addition to the fourteen burials, representing a small Romano-British cemetery, another eight features were recorded. Of these four were small ditches or gullies, three (Ditches A to C) containing Iron Age potsherds and the fourth (Ditch D) containing both Iron Age and Romano-British potsherds.

Five small pits across the area mostly contained potsherds of Iron Age character. Two (Pits B & C), probably small post-holes spaced 2.10m, apart, may represent a structure. Little more can be said about these features other than that they most probably relate to a site of the pre-Roman Iron Age.

PIT A (Not illustrated).

Oval pit, 0.60 by 0.56 metres, 0.20 metres deep with sloping sides and cupped base. Fill of brown loam contained four fragments of bone and three potsherds of Iron Age character.

PIT B (Not illustrated).

Circular post-hole, 0.40 metres in diameter, 0.22 metres deep with vertical sides and flat base. Fill of brown loam contained a single potsherd of Iron Age character.

PIT C (Not illustrated).

Circular post-hole, 0.26 metres in diameter, 0.23 metres deep with vertical sides and cupped base. Fill of brown loam contained two bones, one fragment of daub and five indeterminate potsherds.

PIT D (Not illustrated).

Oval pit, 1.07 metres by 0.85 metres, 0.11 metres deep, with sloping sides and flat base. Fill of brown loam, no finds.

PIT E (Section 5 — Just off Northern edge of the plan).

Corner of rectangular (?) pit, min. 0.90 metres by 0.80 metres, 0.75 metres deep with flat base and one vertical and one angled side. Mixed fill of chalk specks, orange clay and brown loam suggest deliberate fill in a single operation. A thin layer of crushed bone was found on the bottom and traces of a black lining, perhaps carbonised wood, on part of one side and part of the base. As most of this pit was destroyed by the roadworks and the rest examined under bad conditions it is difficult to be certain as to its precise function. It is possible that it represents a burial. Some 44 sherds of calcite gritted ware mostly from a single vessel were found scattered in the filling and suggest an Iron Age, or earlier, date.

DITCH A (Section 1).

Narrow ditch, traced for 6 metres, on broadly north-south axis, depth 0.13 metres. Cupped base, 0.28 metres wide and sides irregular and sloping, some 0.60 metres wide at top. Fill of orange clay-loam contained two sherds of orange-brown calcite gritted ware of Iron Age character.

DITCH B (Section 2).

Small ditch traced for 5.20 metres on north-east south-west axis, depth 0.50 metres. Flat base 0.50 metres wide, steep sides, 1.50 metres wide at lip. Fill contained one animal bone and five sherds of calcite gritted ware of Iron Age character.

DITCH C (Section 3).

End of ditch or pit cut by Burials 6 and 7 on broadly north-east south-west axis, depth 0.95 metres. Sides vertical, width 1.20 metres, flat base. Upper fill of dark-brown loam contained eight fragments of burnt daub and five sherds of calcite gritted ware of Iron Age character.

DITCH D (Section 4, but not on plan).

Ditch traced for 3 metres on roughly east-west axis, depth 0.70 metres. Flat base 0.40 metres wide, steep sides 1.50 metres wide at lip. Fill contained five calcite gritted ware sherds of Iron Age character and two sherds of Romano-British cooking pot or jar.


It is clear that material of two distinctive periods was found on this site. The earlier is a small group of fairly indeterminate grit-loaded potsherds of Iron Age date which probably date from the 4th-2nd century BC. Those found in the small pits and ditches across the site strongly suggest, but do not prove, that several of the features found date from the pre-Roman Iron Age. The two possible post-holes, although of different size, may represent a structure of Iron Age date. It seems probable that the pottery and some of the features relate to the presumed Iron Age ditched enclosures just to the west. If so, then it seems that the occupation-site so suggested may be much more extensive than the air photographs indicate.

DRAWING: Figure  4. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Sections across Features.

Figure 4. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Sections across Features.

The later of the two periods represented is clearly that of a small Romano-British cemetery containing both cremations and inhumations. Broadly speaking the second century was a period when cremation was almost exclusively used and the fourth century a period when inhumation was the form. Mixed cemeteries such as Northbourne tend, therefore, to be of third century date. This is generally supported by the pottery recovered from the burials. Although one or two of the vessels could date from the end of the second century they were found in association with pottery dating from about the middle of the third century. The total absence of samian and obvious second century types is equally significant. Some of the types occur both in later third century and also in earlier fourth century contexts elsewhere though in fact no burial need be later than AD300. On balance it is perhaps wise to suggest that the date of the Northbourne burials falls somewhere between about AD 240 and AD 320.

The burials revealed were largely confined to a compact area about 15metres in diameter. Whilst more burials may have been destroyed by the much earlier roadworks, it does seem likely that the cemetery was in a prescribed area, possibly even enclosed by two of the ditches (Ditch B and Ditch D). Judging by the regular spacing of the inhumations, at about 2metre intervals, it is likely that the graves were marked on the surface in some way, either by markers or small mounds of soil. The cremations, whilst seeming to respect each other, do not easily fit the even pattern of the inhumations and it seems likely that they were the earlier burials which were perhaps encroached upon by later inhumations.

The skeletal material shows a range of ages and a predominance of females though it is possible that the sample is not truly representative of the cemetery. If the burials found do represent substantially the whole cemetery then the probability is that it served a single family as some similarities in the bones suggest. The men died in their mid-late 30's, the women either in their early twenties or after forty. Thus it seems possible that two or three generations of the same family were buried here and this is generally supported by the limited date-range of the pottery.

A small Romano-British cemetery in the countryside about 2 kilometres from the nearest arterial Roman road must surely reflect a rural settlement, such as a farm- stead or villa. Hence a related occupation-site must await discovery nearby. The pottery suggests that such a settlement was confined to the second half of the third century, but equally well, corresponding earlier or later burials may exist in the general area. If the cemetery does reflect the creation and extinction of a rural farming community at Northbourne sometime between AD 240 and AD 320 then somewhat unusual circumstances may be implied. Significantly, perhaps, the late-third century saw the influx of large Roman military garrisons at Richborough (8 kilometres) and Dover (11 kilometres) which would require supplies of corn and meat. Certainly the introduction of some 1000-2000 men and their corresponding organisations would have had a considerable social and economic impact on the immediate area. Perhaps a new farming establishment at Northbourne was part of the response to this new situation.


Most of the skeletons from this cemetery were in good condition, some of them excellent, though some were badly eroded with areas of cancellous bone completely decayed. Though many of the bones were broken some, even of the more delicate ones, were complete.

The sex of the adult skeletons was decided where possible from the relevant features of the skull and the pelvic girdle and the general size and ruggedness of the bones. The age of each individual was assessed from the state of epiphyseal fusion and tooth eruption, and the degree of tooth wear, using the criteria given by Brothwell (Reference 3). Where possible, height was calculated from the total length of the long bones, using the formulae devised by Trotter and Gleser. (Reference 4.).

All the fragments of bone in each cremation were examined in an attempt to assess the age and sex of each individual. Little more could be discovered: burning had been quite thorough though there were some fairly large fragments, up to 98mm long. There was no evidence for the presence of more than one individual in any of the cremations.


THE SKELETAL REMAINS. An 11-entry table follows showing burial number, sex, remains present, and comments.
Burial number. Remains present. Comments.
Burial 1: Female, over 40 years. Part of skull, seven vertebrae, both scapulae and clavicles, part humerus. Dental health was poor, seven of nineteen teeth having been lost before death, with abscesses in two of the remaining sockets. Cervical vertrebrae 3, 4 and 5 show slight evidence of osteo-arthritis.
Burial 2: Female, over 40 years, 5 feet 5 ½ inches (167.2 centimetres ) Virtually complete. One tooth of ten was lost before death, and there is one abscess. There are slight traces of osteo-arthritis at the knees. There are three wormian bones in the lambdoid suture.
Burial 3: Female, 20-25 years, 5 feet 2 inches (157.8 centimetres ) Virtually complete. The sacrum shows spina bifida. There are only four sacral vertebrae, and six lumbar vertebrae. There are four wormian bones in the lambdoid suture and one in the parietal suture.
Burial 4: Female, 20-25 years, 5 feet 7 inches (170.2 centimetres). Eighteen vertebrae, R. arm, pelvis, legs and feet.
Burial 5: Male, 30-35 years, 5 feet 7 inches (170.3 centimetres). Largely complete except for mandible and upper vertebrae. The skull has an inca bone.
Burial 6: Female, over 40 years. Skull, parts of vertebrae, both arms, pelvis, parts of Right femur and Left tibia. Dental health was bad, ten teeth of thirty two being lost before death, while three of the remaining sockets had abscesses. There is slight evidence of osteo-arthritis on the lower cervical vertebrae, and the right shoulder is severely affected, with considerable bony growth on both the humerus head and the scapula, though the left shoulder is unaffected. The skull is metopic.
Burial 8: Sex Uncertain, Adult. Parts of skull and some arm bone shafts.
Burial 9: Male, 35-40 years 5 feet 8 1¼ inches (173.4 centimetres). Virtually complete except for ribs and vertebrae. The skull is metopic and there are four wormian bones in the lambdoid suture.
Burial 12: Sex Uncertain, circa 14 years. Largely complete except for vertebrae and ribs.
Burial 13: Sex Uncertain, 20-25 years. Parts of skull and eroded long bone shafts.
Burial 14: Female, Adult. Fragments of skull, pelvis, femur and tibia.
THE CREMATIONS. A 3-entry table follows showing burial number, sex, weight of bones, and comments.
Burial number and details. Comments.
Burial 7: Adult, Weight: 335 grams. Among the skull fragments a small part of the frontal indicates that the skull was metopic.
Burial 10: Adult or sub-adult. Weight: 185 grams.
Burial 11: Female, Adult Weight: 275 grams.

In such a small sample the age range and the relative proportion of the sexes is of no significance. In the nine cases in which it was possible to tell, three skulls were metopic: one of these also had wormian bones: a further two, not metopic, had wormian bones, and another had an inca bone. The frequency of these anomalies suggests that there was a family relationship between some of the individuals.

Dental health was good, and there was no evidence of disease other than some osteo-arthritis in the older individuals. The extremely severe osteo-arthritis in the right shoulder of one woman may have been connected with trauma or possibly an occupational stress.

The Bird Bones.

The remains of chickens were found with burials Numbers 5, 9 and 13. Though the skeletons were by no means complete, most of the limb bones and some of the vertebrae were present, and in graves 9 and 13 the crania. Since the birds were fairly small, though adult, and the excavation took place under unfavourable conditions, it is very likely that the bones found represent complete birds buried deliberately in the graves. This is supported by the finding of small fragments of burnt bird bones, similar in size to those in the graves, from two of the cremations: cremation 11 contained part of a scapula and radius, and cremation 10 part of a femur and tibiotarsus, suggesting that possibly a bird was burned with those bodies, and some of the ashes gathered along with the human remains and put into the urns.

Grave 13 also contained three piglet vertebrae and part of an ulna from a bird slightly larger than the rest.

THE FINDS (Figures 5-7).

THE FINDS (Figures 5-7). A 25-entry table follows showing burial number, item number, and comments.
Burial number. Item. Description.
Burial 2 (CFN — 37). 1. Biconical jar of fine burnished ware. Grey paste and black-brown surface. There are a Number of uneven grooves and faint cordons on the surface. This seems to be a coarser variant of vessels from Porchester (Types 13 and 14) and Colchester (Form 410), where they are mostly of late-third or fourth century date (Refs: 5 and 6).
2. Small jar with out-curved rim of coarse sandy ware. Dark grey paste and burnished black surface. The base and sides are severely pitted and this vessel had been well-used before burial.
Burial 3 (CFN — 15). 3. Handled bottle (top missing) of fine sandy ware. Orange-pink ware and surface with traces of cream slip.
4. Flanged bowl of Oxfordshire ware, imitation of Samian Form 38. Dark grey paste and orange surface with orange slip. This is a common fourth century type, but the type was manufactured in the Oxfordshire kilns from about the middle of the third century AD (Reference 7).
5. Bracelet of twisted iron and bronze wire interwoven, but badly corroded.
6. Necklace. Scattered group of 21 objects probably from a disintegrated necklace. 17 clear glass cylinders have been broken off thin glass rods of blue (8) and green (9), mostly 10 milimetres long. Four small circular beads, about 3 milimetres in diameter, of pearly substance, with very thin bronze wire fragments suggest the complete necklace.
Burial 4. (CFN — 17). 7. Beaker (top missing) of fine Oxfordshire ware. Pink paste and brown surface coated with dark brown slip. Neat pedestal base and painted white scroll pattern. The profile of this vessel is largely typical of late-Roman beakers with painted patterns. At Porchester (type 18) the same general type appears to date from about 325-345 AD though the range is probably greater and certainly earlier.
8. Small jar of sandy ware. Grey-brown paste and grey-black surface heavily burnished. Faint groove on shoulder. A simple vessel of common form possibly paralleled at the Ospringe cemetery (Number 257) from a cremation-burial dated to the third century (Reference 8).
9. Iron nail about 70 milimetres long. Head diameter 15 milimetres (Min). Square section about 5 by 5 milimetres.
10. Iron nail, one of two bent at right angles. Length about 100 milimetres Head diameter 20 milimetres (Min). Square section about 8 by 8 milimetres.
Burial 5 (CFN — 19). 11. Iron nail 110 milimetres long. Head 30 by 40 milimetres (Min). Square section about 10 by 10 milimetres (Max.).
12. Iron nail 110 milimetres long. Head about 24 by 24 milimetres (Min.) Square section about 10 by 10 milimetres (Max).
Burial 6 (CFN — 25). 13. Beaker of fine sandy ware. Dark grey paste and surface, burnished all over. This seems to be a variant of vessels from Porchester (Types 13 and 14) mostly dated to the first half of the fourth century.
14. Small jar with outcurved rim of fine sandy ware. Grey paste and surface with patches of burnishing and cordon on shoulder. Cross scored on base.
15. Iron nail 65 milimetres long. Head 14 by 14 milimetres (Min). Square section 7 by 7 millimetres.
Burial 7 (CFN — 3). 16. Storage jar with thick bead rim of coarse sandy ware containing grit. Grey core and orange-black surface. Single row of stabbed impressions on neck and faint random striations on surface. This type appears to have had a long life and broad parallels come from each of the first three centuries, AD The general type has been found at Colchester (Form 273) in deposits dated about AD 60 though another from Colchester was found in a cremation-burial dated to about AD150 (Number 273). A useful comparison may also be made with a vessel from a cremation at Ospringe (Number 378) which dates from the late-second or third centuries.
17. Bottle of fine ware. Orange paste and surface coated with white slip. Handle missing when buried. Bottles of this general type occur at Chalk, Kent (Number 48) (Reference 9) dated to about AD 300 and also at Ospringe cemetery (Numbers 229 and 362) where they probably date from about AD 200 or a little later.
18. Beaker of fine Oxfordshire ware. Cream paste and surface coated with dark brown slip. Faint rouletting bands above and below cordon on shoulder. Similiar vessels occur at Richborough (Number 562) (Reference 10)., Colchester (Form 395) and Porchester (Type 15) where they are dated to just after the middle of the third century. This type was manufactured in the Oxfordshire kilns from about the middle of the third century and is also common in the Ospringe cemetery groups.
Burial 9 (CFN —18). 19. Iron nail 135 milimetres long. Head 20 by 23 milimetres (Min.) Square section 10 by 10 milimetres.
20. Iron nail 160 milimetres long. Head 20 by 15 milimetres (Min.) Square section 10 by 10 milimetres.
Burial 10 (CFN —16). 21. Storage jar, or large cooking pot, of coarse gritty ware. Grey paste and orange-black surface. Diagonal cross-hatch burnished on body.
22. Handled bottle of fine sandy ware. Grey paste and grey-brown surface, with slight traces of burnishing. Zone of burnished diagonal cross-hatching on shoulder and on neck. Pair of faint grooves on shoulder.
Burial 11 (CFN — 7). 23. Storage jar of coarse porridgy ware. Blue-grey core and orange surface. Cordon on neck and stub of strap handle on shoulder.
24. Miniature jar of sandy ware. Red-brown paste and grey surface. Warped lower side suggests this was a 'second'.
25. Bottle of fine sandy ware. Grey paste and surface with traces of black external slip. Two cordons at junction of neck and shoulder.
DRAWING: Figure  5. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.

Figure 5. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.
Burial 2 (Numbers 1 & 2); Burial 3 (Numbers 3-6); Burial 4 (Numbers 7-10);
Burial 5 (Numbers 11& 12); Burial 6 (Numbers 13-15).

DRAWING: Figure  6. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.

Figure 6. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.
Burial 7 (Numbers 16-18); Burial 9 (Numbers 19&20); Burial 10 (Numbers 21&22).

DRAWING: Figure  7. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.

Figure 7. Northbourne Roman Cemetery. Objects from the Burials.
Burial 11 (Numbers 23-25); Burial 13 (Numbers 26 & 27).


  1. Margary, I D, Roman Roads in Britain (1973), page 39.
  2. Philp, B J and Gaunt, J in Kent Arch. Review, Number 39 (1975), page 269.
  3. Brothwell, D R in Digging up Bones, (1965), pages 60 and 69.
  4. Trotter, M and Gleser, G C. A Re-evaluation of estimation of stature based on measurements of stature taken during life and long bones after death, in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, (1958). pages 79-123.
  5. Cunliffe, B. Excavations at Porchester Castle, Volume 1: Roman. (1975).
  6. Hull, M R Roman Colchester, (1958).
  7. Young, C. Current Research in Romano-British Coarse Pottery (CBA 1973), page 105.
  8. Whiting, Hawley, May, Excavation of the Roman Cemetery at Ospringe, (1931).
  9. Johnston, D E Britannia Volume 3 (1972), page 112.
  10. Cunliffe, B W (Ed). Excavation of the Roman Fort at Richborough,Kent, (1968).
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.