Decoding the Dead

Colchester Museums has been awarded a ‘Designation Development’ grant of £82,000 from Arts Council England

Date issued: 17 December 2019

Colchester Museums has been awarded a ‘Designation Development’ grant of £82,000 from Arts Council England to explore its nationally important early Roman cremation burials, in partnership with the University of Reading and Colchester Archaeological Trust.

This exciting announcement will enable experts from these organisations to conduct cutting-edge scientific analyses, helping to decode and shed light on the lives and deaths of the early Roman and indigenous peoples.

The in-depth research will help to identify the age, sex and skeletal pathologies from the cremated remains, and give a better insight into the people – both indigenous and incoming individuals from throughout the Roman Empire.

Detailed isotopic analysis will help identify the broad geographical origins of some of the soldiers, bureaucrats and merchants who would have come to Colchester during the turbulent years of the Roman invasion of Britain. The studies will help challenge what we know already and shed new light on this period of change.

Colchester Museums is lucky to boast one of the most important Roman collections in the country, whilst Colchester itself was pivotal during the invasion period. The museums are therefore perfectly placed to conduct this research.

Councillor Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance and Deputy Leader of the Council said: “We are delighted to have been given this amazing opportunity to work with Reading University on the Decoding the Dead project. This work will not only allow us to conduct fascinating cutting-edge research into our past, but also give us the opportunity to collaborate and explore the subject of death in our own society, something that we do not talk about enough.”

Professor Eckardt, from the University of Reading, added: “So far, isotope and artefact analysis have focused on the later Roman period, but at Colchester we have a chance to go back further in time. Using the latest science, we can learn much more about the people who settled and died in the first military base and town in Britain and change what we know about some of the earliest Roman settlers in Britain.”

The findings of the study will feature in displays at both Colchester’s Roman Circus Centre and Colchester Castle in early 2021. There will also be new educational resources, highlighting the long-term history of migration in the UK.

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