A MURDER investigation was launched in Northumberland yesterday – 1,800 years after the deed.
The remains of a child, thought to be between eight and 10, have been found in a shallow pit in the corner of a barrack room floor at Vindolanda Roman fort near Bardon Mill.
Human burials in built-up areas like forts and towns were strictly forbidden in Roman times – the dead had to be interred or cremated in cemeteries on the outskirts.
So archaeologists at first assumed before the complete skeleton was uncovered that the remains must be those of a large dog. But when the entire skeleton was seen by Durham University biological anthropologist, Dr Trudy Buck, she identified the remains as those of a young person, possibly a girl.
Dr Buck said yesterday that from the body’s position in the pit, the hands could have been tied together.
The pit in the barracks dated to the mid Third Century, when the Fourth Cohort of Gauls formed the garrison.
Dr Andrew Birley, Vindolanda’s director of excavations, said: “In the 1930s my grandfather, Eric Birley, found two skeletons concealed below a floor in a civilian building at nearby Housesteads fort, one of whom had the blade of a knife stuck in the ribs, and the later coroner’s inquest duly produced a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown, shortly before AD367.
“I’m sorry to say that Vindolanda has probably produced another Roman murder victim, from around the AD 250s and I shudder to think how this young person met their fate”.
Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, said: “This definitely looks like a case of foul play. It was very sad to find a child in this shallow grave under the barrack floor.
“It would have been very difficult to get a body out of the barracks and through the wider fort and out of the gate but we don’t know if the burial took place with or without the collusion of the men who shared the barracks.” Dr Buck said: “It is a unique situation and looks like a suspicious death and I will be looking for signs of injury.”
It is hoped to have the examination results in a month, when the remains will be returned to Vindolanda.