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Rothamsted Romano-British cemetery

A Scheduled Monument in Harpenden Rural, Hertfordshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.811 / 51°48'39"N

Longitude: -0.377 / 0°22'37"W

OS Eastings: 511987.030001

OS Northings: 213725.691001

OS Grid: TL119137

Mapcode National: GBR H7H.FHJ

Mapcode Global: VHFRV.FR22

Entry Name: Rothamsted Romano-British cemetery

Scheduled Date: 1 January 1938

Last Amended: 23 February 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018377

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27903

County: Hertfordshire

Civil Parish: Harpenden Rural

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Harpenden

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Details

The monument includes the visible and buried remains of a Romano-British
cemetery located on a broad plateau above and to the north east of the River
Ver, immediately north west of the Rothamsted Experimental Farm.
Although the site, formerly covered by a copse known as Collye Grove, was
traditionally associated with the Roman period, it was not investigated until
1936-37 when part excavation revealed part of an enclosure approximately
30.48m square, defined by the foundations of a flint rubble and clay wall some
0.8m thick. This wall was bounded on three sides by an external berm and
ditch. On the fourth - south eastern - side, there was evidence for an
entrance way and for a trackway leading to the enclosure.
Two cremation burials were discovered, situated close to the south eastern and
south western walls. The assemblage and accompanying grave goods of the south
western burial included an urn, three flagons, a samian dish and sherds of a
castor ware cup, enabling the group to be dated to the second quarter of the
2nd century AD. The second assemblage consisted of an urn, one flagon and a
similar samian dish, and was considered to be slightly earlier than the first
burial, being dated to approximately AD 100-125.
Excavation also revealed the mortared flint foundations of a mausoleum at the
centre of the enclosure. This was a circular building about 5.5m in diameter
with two solid pilasters projecting from the north eastern elevation,
presumably flanking a doorway. A partition wall built across the south western
arc of the structure would have formed a niche behind an altar or altar tomb,
the base of which is located in the centre of the building remains. It is
thought that the niche contained a statue, fragments of which were recovered
from debris in this area. Although essentially a tomb, the mausoleum may have
provided a setting for religious rituals associated with offerings for and on
behalf of the deceased (whose remains were not discovered), although the
internal space would have been too limited to allow access for more than one
individual.
The thickness of the foundations (about 1.1m) suggests that the walls of the
mausoleum may have stood to a height of about 6m, probably capped by a tiled
roof, and perhaps resembling the tower-like Roman tombs known in Spain and
southern France.
The cemetery is thought to represent the private burial ground of a high
status family living in the area during the 2nd century AD. The excavations
indicated three funerary deposits but, since the whole of the cemetery area
was not investigated, it is considered that further cremations will remain
undisturbed beneath the present ground surface.
During the course of the excavations the remnants of a ditch, 0.7m wide, were
uncovered. That this ditch was already silted up when the mausoleum was built
was demonstrated by the fact that the foundations of the western arc were cut
into its fill. The silts contained fragments of Late Iron Age pottery and one
worked flint flake, and a small quantity of similar pottery was recovered from
the surface of the subsoil in other parts of the site. The extent and function
of the ditch are not known but it may be inferred that it had fallen into
disuse well before its appropriation as a Roman burial ground.
Apart from a small area to the north east, the foundations of the enclosure
wall and the mausoleum have been consolidated and are displayed within an area
of grassland. The north eastern corner of the cemetery is preserved beneath a
trackway and a ploughed field.
All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling together with the
made surface of the track, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Romano-British cemetery at Rothamsted is a rare example of an enclosed
burial ground thought to have been constructed for the exclusive use of a high
status family during the 2nd century AD. Limited archaeological
investigations have demonstrated the ground plan of the cemetery and the
central mausoleum but have left most of the enclosed area undisturbed. The
structures revealed by the excavation have been preserved above and below
ground. Significant archaeological deposits, including further funerary
remains, will be retained within the unexcavated cemetery area. These will
provide additional evidence relating to the dating and period of use of the
cemetery and to the religious beliefs and practices of the people interred
here. Environmental evidence preserved within these features may illustrate
the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set.
The site is known to have been used during the Late Iron Age, and the
undisturbed portions of the cemetery may contain further features from this
period which will illuminate its function prior to the Roman occupation.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 109-110
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 112-113
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 113
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 108
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 114
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 110
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 108-14
Lowther, A W G, 'Transactions of St Albans Archit & Archaeological Society' in Excavation of the Roman Structure at Rothamsted Exp. Station, , Vol. 5, (1938), 114

Source: Historic England

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