Monument record MCC3014 - Roman cemetery, Area C2, Garrison Urban Village, Colchester


A total of 67 Roman burials and burial related features were recorded in Area C2 of the Garrison. These features consisted of 26 inhumation burials (including a lead coffin), 24 cremation burials, 11 urned cremation burials, five burial pits containing pyre debris, and a single boxed cremation burial. The inhumations were the earliest burials recorded on the site dating from the early-mid 2nd to the mid-late 3rd century. The cremations (cremation, urned and boxed) were the later burials dating from the mid-late 3rd to the 4th century. The burials on the site also appeared to be divided into two distinct concentrations, which would indicate the presence of two burial plots.


Grid reference TL 9972 2447 (point)
Map sheet TL92SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

Burial Plot 1
The majority of the burials and burial-related features recorded in Area C2 (61 out of 67 in total) were concentrated in the centre of the site – Burial Plot 1. A total of 24 inhumation burials, 23 cremation burials, eight urned cremation burials, one boxed cremation burial and four burial pits containing pyre debris were recorded from this plot. Two east-west orientated ditches acted as the northern and southern boundaries for the burial plot. The burials began 8.5m south of the northern boundary ditch but were placed right-up against the southern ditch. Neither the eastern nor the western extent of the burial plot was located during the investigation and the burials, presumably, continue in both directions beyond the limits of the site.

Aspects of the burial activity recorded within the plot are highly unusual, if not unique, in the context of Roman town cemeteries. The unusual element is represented by ten ring ditches, of between 4m and 6.5m in diameter, with narrow (approximately 0.60m wide) and usually shallow (approximately 0.14m deep) defining ditches. Six of these ring ditches enclosed a central burial – three enclosed cremation burials, two enclosed urned cremation burials and one enclosed a boxed cremation burial. Of the remaining four ring ditches, three had been disturbed by post-Roman activity which had probably removed all trace of any associated central burials. The last ring ditch was only partially within the excavation area, so any associated burial was outside the limit of the site. Two of these ring ditches also contained a cremation burial within a section of the ditch. These burials could only have been placed within the ditches when they were beginning to silt up and are, therefore, probably slightly later in date than the centrally enclosed burial.

The ring ditches appear to have been dug with respect to one another since there were no intercutting examples. Therefore it is assumed that all were visible, with extant central mounds when the last was constructed, and so were all broadly contemporary with one another. The complete pottery vessels, which accompanied the six central cremations, in addition to several associated coins, may provide clues to the sequence of construction.

However, it appears certain at this stage that there is a late Roman (later 4th century) element. All but one of the ring ditches had a clear 'entrance gap', presumably to allow visitors access to the internal mounds – perhaps to place offerings. The one remaining ring ditch had been partially disturbed by a modern feature which may have removed an entrance, although more plausibly the ring ditch was unbroken. If this ditch was unbroken it would be a unique example on the site. This particular ring ditch is also unusual as the ditch was a lot deeper than the other examples (perhaps making the mound more prominent) and it contained the only boxed cremation burial recorded from the whole cemetery. It is possible to speculate that this prominent mound (based on the depth of its associated ditch) represented the ‘founder burial’ of this group. The up-cast from these ring ditches would have been used to form barrows over the central burial. So, these ring ditches indicate the presence of at least ten Roman barrow burials within this cemetery. The use of barrow burials is atypical of Roman town cemeteries at Colchester and can possibly be explained as either arising from Continental/Germanic influence perhaps associated with the military or in replication of a local barrow burial tradition (see discussion). The northern side of the E/W boundary ditch separating Plot 1 from Plot 2 was also respected by a group of E/W-orientated inhumation graves along its edge. These included a decapitation grave encountered during evaluation within the western area of C2. The decapitated head had been placed below the ankles of this individual.

Burial Plot 2
Seven burials and burial-related features were recorded to the south of Burial Plot 1. These features consisted of two inhumation burials, three urned cremation burials, one cremation burial and one burial pit containing pyre debris. The southern boundary ditch of Burial Plot 1 became the northern boundary ditch for this plot and a Roman droveway or track (see below) acted as its western boundary. Neither the eastern nor the southern extent of the burial plot were located during the investigation and the burials, presumably, continue in both directions beyond the limits of the site. Burial Plot 2 also contained the remains of a mausoleum (MCC2989). The mausoleum was a rectangular stone walled structure measuring 10m (north-south) by 7m (east-west). The wall foundations were 0.75m thick and 0.15m deep. Only about half of the structure was revealed during the investigations and no entrances were located. An inhumation burial within a lead coffin was found within the mausoleum and is believed to be the primary burial associated with it. Dating evidence, from the walls of the mausoleum and the burial, date this structure from the 2nd to the mid 3rd century, which would make the mausoleum contemporary with the inhumation burials in Burial Plot 1.

At a later (unknown) date another Roman wall was cut through the north wall of the mausoleum (and possibly the south wall as well, although this was hard to define within the rubble spread of the evaluation trench). It was not possible to define the full nature of this wall and it is uncertain if it represents the destruction of the mausoleum or is associated with it in some way. However, the wall does butt up against the southern boundary ditch of Burial Plot 1, suggesting that the ditch and the wall may have formed some kind of contemporary boundary. Two other probable walls were located near to this wall may also be associated with it, but this is also extremely uncertain.

Identified on-top of the remains of wall footing was a baby inhumation burial buried with a cremation. It is uncertain if this double burial was buried within the wall footing or on-top of the footing after the wall was demolished. If it was buried within the wall it would seem too perfect a coincidence that the wall was demolished to a depth that did not destroy the burial. However, no separate cut for the burial was located. A cremation burial was also located within the north-west corner of the mausoleum, although it was not possible to determine if this burial was actually associated with the mausoleum and/or with the later wall.<1>

Sources/Archives (1)

  • <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, pp.31-32.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (12)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Oct 20 2016 3:16PM

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