New course throws light on the early history of Britain

PUBLISHED: 12 July 2021

Online course offers the chance to be among the first to study 2,000-year-old cremated remains from Roman Britain and to learn about the origins of the people of Colchester, its first capital.

Colchester Museums and the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology set to launch Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections on the leading social learning platform FutureLearn.

This free online course has been part-funded by Arts Council England. Aimed at an 18-30 audience who are interested in studying archaeology at Undergraduate or Postgraduate level, it will also appeal to anyone with a keen interest in history and archaeology, particularly Roman Britain. Participants can learn in their own time, at their own pace, on any device with an internet connection. The course is designed to last two weeks with a recommended study of two hours per week.

The course content will draw upon latest research that Colchester Museums and the University of Reading have undertaken during 2021, which delves into the intricacies of life and death in Roman Colchester.

By examining cremation burials (consisting of both cremated bones and associated artefacts) from Colchester Museum’s vast collections, the research team has applied new archaeological techniques such as isotope analysis and modern Osteoarchaeology. This has enabled curators and academics from both institutions to discover more about the lives of some of the earliest Romano-Britons.

Participants will join the research team to uncover incredible facts about a single individual whose life ultimately ended in Roman Colchester. Over the duration of the course, the participant will be able to use their new osteoarchaeological knowledge to build up a profile of who this person was – their age, sex, origin and status.

The course will also touch on Roman attitudes to death and burial processes. The highly engaging course will feature behind-the-scenes videography showing expert analysis filmed at Colchester Museums stores, as well as articles written by the wider research team.

Glynn Davis, Senior Collections and Learning Curator at Colchester Museums said: “This is an incredible opportunity for individuals to get beneath the skin of Roman Britain. Who were the individuals that ultimately ended their lives in Roman Colchester? Using cutting-edge osteoarchaeological techniques, we have been able to work alongside our peers at the University of Reading to truly bring Roman Colchester to life.”

Professor Hella Eckardt, Professor of Archaeology, University of Reading added: “We have long-known about mobility and migration, from inscriptions on stone, but this course allows learners to uncover the information that can be unlocked from human remains and artefacts, painting a much richer picture of what life was like at the edge of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.”

Councillor Darius Laws, Portfolio Holder for Economy, Business and Heritage for Colchester Borough Council, said: “Participants will be able to step back in time and uncover what life in Colchester may have looked like over 2,000 years ago, learning more about life and death in Britain’s First City. The Romans continue to fascinate the public and this course will provide students with a fresh new angle on Roman Britain.”

Upon completion of the course, learners will have the opportunity to pay for upgraded access for as long as it exists on the platform. Learners also have the chance to earn a Certificate of Achievement to demonstrate their completion of the course, once eligible.

Current University of Reading students will be able to obtain the benefits of the FutureLearn upgrade for free as part of FutureLearn Campus. Students must use their University of Reading email address.
Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections launches today at

Page last reviewed: 12 July 2021


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