This article first appeared in Discovery.com and is written by Rossella Lorenzi
A rare, intact Roman tombstone was unearthed this week by archaeologists digging ahead of construction of a parking lot in Cirencester, in western England.
Made from Cotswold limestone, the 1,800-year-old inscribed stone was found in a grave — directly above an adult skeleton.
The likely association of the gravestone with the human remains makes the discovery unique, said Neil Holbrook, chief executive of Cotswold Archaeology.
“It’s the sort of thing archaeologists only find in places like Pompeii,” Holbrook told reporters.
Found lying on its front, the tombstone revealed fine decorations and five lines of Latin inscription when it was turned over. It read: “D.M. BODICACIA CONIUNX VIXIT ANNO S XXVII.”
“Our preliminary translation of the inscription is: To the spirits of the departed/Bodicacia/faithful wife/died aged 27,” Ed McSloy, Cotswold Archaeology’s finds expert, told Discovery News.
The archaeologists believe the name of the young woman is either Bodicacia or Bodica. However, it’s also possible that two names are hidden within the inscription: Bodus, referring to a man, and Cacia, pointing to a woman.
“Bodica/Bodicacia/Bodus all would be Latinized versions of Celtic names, though Cacia could be fully Roman,” McSloy said.
He noted that the root of the name Bodica, as well as its variations, is very likely to be the same as that of Boudicca (Boadicea), the rebel queen of the Iceni, a British tribe, who unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the Romans.
As the name Bodiccia/Bodica/Bodus has a Celtic origin, archaeologists believe the individual was British, and perhaps local to Cirencester.
“Analysis of the bones should confirm whether this person was local to the area,” McSloy said. “It should also be possible to determine gender, age at death, and provide evidence for diet and disease.”
The inscription made it possible to date the tomb to the second century A.D., when Cirencester, known by the Romans as Corinium, was the second-largest city in Britain after London.
“The abbreviated use of D.M. (Dis Manibis — ‘to the spirits of the departed’) is used after the end of the first century A.D.,” McSloy said.
“Also, the style and quality of the lettering seems more appropriate to the second rather than the third century,” he added.
Other clues might come from the title “Coniunx” (faithful wife), which is sometimes used in association with freed slaves.
“There is a possibility that Bodiccia/Bodica/Bodus may have started life as a slave,” McSloy said.
Around 200 inscribed tombstones have been found from Roman Britain, but this is the only one thought to record the person found beneath.
It is also the first example of a tombstone — from Roman Britain, at least — depicting the Roman god Oceanus on the pediment, which is the decorated, triangular portion at the top of the stone.
Oceanus, the divine personification of the sea in the classical world, is portrayed with a long mustache, stylized long hair, and crab-like pincers above the head.
“In a funerary context it may symbolise the long ‘watery’ voyage to the afterlife,” McSloy said. “Interestingly, there is some damage to the face of Oceanus, possibly due to deliberate defacement.”
The archaeologists, who have been working at the site for the past two months unearthing 55 ancient Roman graves, have now moved the tombstone and the remains to a lab for further studies and analysis.
Rossella Lorenzi is the senior archaeology correspondent for Discovery News. She lives in Italy and divides her time among an 18th-century Florentine house, virtual archaeological digs, and travels to report on new historical discoveries.