Monument record MCC2807 - Roman burials, Former Garrison Area J1 North (former Royal Artillery Barracks), Colchester Garrison


A total of 351 Roman burials and burial related features (204 inhumation burials, 69 urned cremation burials, 2 amphora cremation burials, 11 unurned cremation burials, 5 pyre sites, 4 probable busta, 4 pyre sites/busta, 54 burial pits containing pyre debris, and 8 other burial-related features) were defined during archaeological investigations of 'Area J1 North' (former Royal Artillery Barracks, now area of Le Cateau Road) of the Colchester Garrison Alienated Land in 2004-5 in advance of redevelopment by Taylor Wimpey.


Grid reference Centred TL 99279 24581 (97m by 111m)
Map sheet TL92SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (12)

Full Description

A total of 351 burials and burial-related features was found in Area J1 North (a 0.37ha excavation area (unmanaged grass, tarmac parking and a road in the northern corner of the site). This total includes all burials found in evaluation trenches J1T10 and J1T11, and in the excavation of Area J1 North). These features consisted of 203 inhumation burials (six of these were left unexcavated, and one (JNF218) was a dual burial with separate coffins), 65 urned cremation burials (including one, JN325, which consisted of two individuals in the same urn), 51 burial pits containing pyre debris, 11 unurned cremation burials (including one, JNF47, possible boxed cremation burial, with the disturbed remains of box fittings), five pyre sites, four probable busta, four pyre sites/busta, and eight other burial-related features.<1><2>

All of these burials and burial features were located to the north (-east) of the large Roman road or trackway (24m wide) that ran across the site, aligned NW to SE, and the roadside ditch (JNF10) also acted as the south (-western) boundary for the burial area. Seven inhumation burials and one pyre site were found in two sections of the ditch, which had been buried in the ditch once it had
begun to silt up indicating that both the road and the cemetery had been in existence for some time prior to these burials. In addition, a significant quantity of cattle jaws was recorded in a pile above the remains of the pyre; it is possible that they form an offering associated with the burial ground.

A number of gullies (JNF8, JNF48, JNF120, JNF343 and JNF499) appear to represent the boundaries of burial plots. All appeared to have been orientated approximately NE to SW and NW to SE, indicating they were likely to be connected to the wide Roman road or track. Inhumation burial JNF360 was cut by gully JNF343 which would indicate that at least some of the burial plots were established after the site had begun to be used as a burial ground. Another characteristic is that all of the gullies, apart from JNF8, were cut by burial features dating from the 1st/2nd century. Therefore the burial plots were of an early Roman date and were not fully respected by the later burials on the site.

Due to the acidic soil conditions, inhumed bone survived in ony 61 of the excavated burials and recorded bone was in a very poor state of preservation. Thirty-six of the inhumation burials were certainly within wooden coffins, 30 of which were nailed. 19 of the inhumation burials with coffins contained other burial goods and 41 of the inhumations without coffins also contained burial goods; 120 inhumations contained neither coffins nor burial goods. Pottery vessels and hobnail shoes being among the most common types of burial goods. In total, 16 jars were recorded (including two small/miniature jars) along with 14 flagons, nine beakers, six bowls (including two miniature bowls), three flasks (including one miniature flask), two cups, one tetina, one glass flask, 26 to 28 shoes, 36 glass beads, 19 copper-alloy objects (ten coins, four rings, one brooch, one cosmetic set, one armlet, one object and some mirror fragments), five iron objects (one ring with an intaglio, one brooch, one candlestick, one knife and one sheet fragment), two composite objects, a piece of silver foil, some lead fragments and a possible box.

The 65 urned cremation burials consisted of 61 single burials, one dual burial, one double burial, and two possible double burials (although the bone analysis could only identify at least one individual present). Fifty-six were in jars (including two face pots and one honey pot), and one each were in a beaker, a jar/bowl, a jar/flagon, a flagon, a vase, a flask, an unidentifiable vessel, and two were in bowls. Twelve of these urns also had lids of a variety of types including five lids, three bowls, one beaker, one pot base, one large potsherd, and one urn had been covered by several storage jar fragments. Nineteen of the urned burials also contained a number of other burial goods, which consisted of 26 other pottery vessels, two pottery lamps, five small finds (two iron objects, one copper-alloy coin, one glass bead, one pot counter), and some nails, hobnails and glass fragments. The most elaborately furnished of the urned cremation burials, JNF125, included an urn containing the remains of a juvenile (0-5 years), five other pottery vessels, one pottery counter (which had been used as a lid and placed on top of one of the vessels) and several other items which had also been placed in the urn (a factory lamp, a copper-alloy coin, an iron tool and two iron nails). One, JNF154, also contained a rectangular area of wood staining in the bottom of the feature on to which the urn and burial goods had been placed. This possibly represents either a plank or perhaps a wooden box, which had been used as a secondary container for the urn and cremated bone. Animal bone, probably representing 'food for the afterlife', was also present in 11 of the burials.

Three of the 11 unurned cremation burials contained no burial goods, four contained a small number of burial goods (usually a single pottery vessel), and four contained a more elaborate range of goods (cremation burials JNF47, JNF91, JNF103 and JNF205). Only about a third of burial JNF205 had survived but it included five miniature jars and the remains of a wooden box (in the form of a copper-alloy lock plate and many iron fittings). Unfortunately, the exact nature of this burial feature could not be determined although it is possible that it was boxed. Cremation burial JNF103 was one of the more elaborate burials identified comprising five pottery vessels, a picture lamp in fragments, a bone/ivory bead, two broken hairpins (one of which was gilded), some glass and melted glass, three iron sheet fragments, a piece of burnt copper-alloy debris and a quantity of nails and hobnails. Animal bone was also recorded.

A total of 13 features were identified as either pyre sites or busta. This number consists of five features which have been identified as pyre sites (JNF4, JNF199, JNF248, JNF277, JNF279) and four are probably busta (JNF5, JNF34, JNF61, JNF183). The remaining four features could only be identified as pyre sites or busta (JNF112, JNF203, JNF204 and JNF465). Three had been badly truncated (JNF112, JNF203, JNF204) and the last was left unexcavated (JNF465). As well as the pyre sites, 51 'burial pits' were also identified as containing mainly pyre debris - a large quantity of charcoal and burning, a small quantity of cremated bone and a quantity of burnt and broken burial goods, all of which were scattered throughout the fill of the receiving pit. Forty of these pits also included a varying number of burnt and broken burial goods which would have been burnt with the body, consisting of pottery sherds, nails, hobnails, melted glass, burnt flint and animal bone. However, ten included a larger amount of debris and pit JNF252 not only contained the largest quantity of bone recorded from one of these features (at 700g), but also contained a very wealthy set of burial goods which had been burnt and scattered throughout the burial pit (JNF252). These goods included the remains of four tazzas, two flagons, two picture lamps, one factory lamp, one double spouted lamp, six copper-alloy objects (four studs, one shank fragment and one fragment), one iron brooch, several fragments of glass and melted glass, a date and several nails and hobnails. Several pits also included the remains of near complete pottery vessels, some unburnt, as well as a copper-alloy coin.

Of the 45 Roman post-holes, 25 were clearly associated with Roman burials, and nine others possibly so, and these were probably for wooden burial markers.

Two features (JNF242 and JNF333) contained an upright, whole jar, with the remains of a lid surviving in situ, set in a small pit. Neither pot contained cremated bone nor any other surviving finds. Several other unclassifiable burial-related features were excavated. Two disturbed features (JNF41 and JNF311) each contained the remains of a pot but no cremated bone. One feature (JNF70) was probably a
cremation burial redeposited in a grave. There were also two pottery scatters (JNF209 and JNF264) and one almost totally destroyed feature (JNF467).

The burials ranged in date from the mid 1st to the 3rd century, with only two burials absolutely dating to the late 4th century (an inhumation burial JNF270 containing a coin dated from AD 351-3 (JNF270.1) and a late inhumation burial JNF271 which cut through this feature). The burial site also appears to have been in fairly constant use throughout this period with a small peak in burial numbers in the mid-1st to 2nd century. Both the inhumation and the cremation burial rites were in contemporary use throughout the period, although there are slightly more later cremation burials cutting earlier inhumations than visa versa, which may indicate that cremation was slightly more common in the later period.

The burial area extended beyond the north, south and east sides of the excavated site (a further 139 burials were subsequently defined to the north in Area H2; see MCC10200).<3>

Five dRoman burials were defined during the Area J1 South excavation, and three during the Area J1 East excavation.

Four urned cremation burials, two amphora cremation burials and one inhumation burial were recorded within Field 1, Area J1 South, c.115m to the south.<1><2>

Sources/Archives (3)

  • <1> EXCAV REPORT: Pooley, L., Holloway, B., Crummy, P. (CAT) and Masefield, R. (RPS Grp). 2006. Assessment report on the archaeological investigations carried out on Areas C1, C2, E, J1, O, Q and S1 of the Alienated Land, Colchester Garrison, including the Time Team trenches and the Alienated Land watching brief. CAT Report 361.
  • <2> EXCAV REPORT: Pooley, L., Crummy, P., Shimmin, D., Brooks., H., Holloway, B. and Masefield, R.. 2011. Archaeological investigations on the 'Alienated Land', Colchester Garrison, Colchester, Essex. CAT Report 412.
  • <3> EXCAV REPORT: Pooley, Laura. 2017. Roman burials: Archaeological excavation (Stage 2) on Colchester Garrison 'Alienated Land' Area H, off Butt Road, Colchester, Essex, CO3 2DL. CAT Report 1033.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (10)

Related Events/Activities (5)

Record last edited

Jan 17 2018 10:17AM

Comments and Feedback

Do you have any more information about this record? Please feel free to comment with information and photographs, or ask any questions, using the "Disqus" tool below. Comments are moderated, and we aim to respond/publish as soon as possible.