The five skeletons were two adult males, two adult females and an elderly female – with researchers postulating that they could be the remains of three generations of the same family, who all owned the villa. The bones are thought to date from the mid-4th Century (around 350 AD).
The discovery was made by staff and students from Bournemouth University, who are working on the Durotriges Big Dig project in North Dorset. The villa itself was excavated last year by students working on the project, and the latest find is the final step in excavating this particular area of rich archaeological significance.
Dr. Miles Russell with one of the skeletons found at Winterborne Kingston. Credit: Bournemouth University
Miles Russell, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bournemouth University and one of the archaeologists leading the dig, said, “The discovery is of great significance as it is the only time where evidence of a villa and the villa’s occupants have been found in the same location in Britain. This could provide us with significant information, never retrieved before, about the state of health of the villa owners, their ancestry and where they came from.
“One of the big questions in South West is whether the villas in the South West were owned by Britons who have become Roman or owned by people from another part of the Empire who have come to exploit an under-developed rural area. All villas in this region in the South West are late-Roman – and our findings should tell us more about what life was like in this period of history. This is what what can be assessed when the bones are analyzed.”
Dr. Miles Russell on site in Winterborne Kingston. Credit: Bournemouth University
Paul Cheetham, Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences and co-director of the project, added, “We are looking at the rural elite of late-Roman Britain, living through the economic collapse that took place during this period. These remains will shed light on the final stages of the golden age of Roman Britain.”
Members of the public can also engage with the project when the Big Dig hosts an Open Day on Sunday 13 July 2014 from 10.30am. More information about the Open Day can be found on the Archaeology Festival website.