Twenty-five skeletons found on farm

Archaeologists have unearthed more than two dozen skeletons in what is thought to be an ancient cemetery at Chester Farm, near Irchester.

It is hoped the exciting discovery may shed further light on the 2,000-year-old Roman settlement and give another glimpse into what life was like in Roman Britain.

Volunteer Pat Barber from Higham Ferrers Archaeology and Research Society

Volunteer Pat Barber from Higham Ferrers Archaeology and Research Society

Project manager at the dig Jennifer Sherrey said archaeologists had an inkling they might find skeletons at the site as several had been unearthed very nearby in a dig two years ago.

However, archaeologists were completely unprepared for the number and quality of the skeletons discovered.

Miss Sherrey added: “Chester Farm is a really important site as we have evidence of about 10,000 years of habitation.

“We think the skeletons we found would have been poorer members of society, and that this was a small cemetery outside the main settlement.

“Some of the graves were lined with stones, one with a millstone, so that may have represented their trade, but there are no other grave ornaments or trinkets.

“This is such an exciting site because we aren’t talking about lords and ladies or a great big battlefield.

“These were poorer, everyday people who we know less about.”

The skeletons were uncovered using a digger which skims away a thin layer of earth.

When something interesting is uncovered, teams use hand tools and brushes to carefully take away the remaining soil. Artists then draw the skeletons exactly as they were found. The theory behind drawing the skeletons is that fine details which may be missed by a photographer can be captured.

Alongside the skeletons a few walls have been discovered, as well as the remains of a courtyard area.

The skeletons were due to be removed from the ground this week – a careful process which involves bagging up each bone and fragment individually before sending them away for further analysis.

Some of the skeletons had been laid with their arms across their chests, so may have been holding objects like food when they were buried.

Senior project manager from the Museum of London Archaeology Ian Meadows said once the bones are analysed then they may reveal more about the site.

He said: “We can tell if the skeletons were male or female and we may also be able to tell if they were related, because they may have suffered from hereditary diseases.”

The excavation at the site, about the size of a tennis court, took several weeks and involved students from the University of Leicester.

Roman town

Irchester Roman Town is thought to have been home to 600 or 700 people – which would have made it a large settlement in Roman times.

The town was near a ford on the River Nene and there was a walled fort.

Archaeologists say the fort was not thought to have been built for protection, but rather operated like an administration centre, collecting taxes from people crossing the nearby ford.

Project manager for the site Jennifer Sherrey said archaeologists are learning more and more about the former town – but things like its proper name, and why it disappeared, are still mysteries.