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Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections

Explore the archaeology of early Roman Britain and learn techniques to build a profile of an individual from the first century AD.

4,398 enrolled on this course

Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections

4,398 enrolled on this course

  • 2 weeks

  • 2 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

Uncover the history of early Roman Britain

What did a Roman funeral look, sound, and smell like? And how can you tell just from a person’s remains?

Join a research team uncovering exciting new information about cremation burials excavated over 100 years ago in Colchester, the site of Camulodunum, one of Britain’s oldest towns and its first Roman capital city. Learn about the latest techniques used to discover some of the secrets of the Roman Empire.

This two-week archaeology course will give you an introduction to osteoarchaeology, the methods, techniques and theory used to study ancient bones, with a focus on early Roman Britain.

Discover Ancient Romano-British culture from what is left behind

Step behind the scenes with a museum specialist and osteologist to explore the stores housing the Romano-British collections as they show you the latest archaeological and osteological methods to analyse the cremated remains of an individual.

Piece together the profile of someone who lives and died in early Roman Colchester

Using the evidence gathered by the experts, you’ll create a fact file about the age, sex, health, status, and origins of the individual. You’ll also identify other sources of information such as inscriptions and grave goods to build your knowledge of the people of Roman Colchester, including their cultural identity and migration patterns.

Discuss how to create a public exhibition

Once you’ve built your profile of a cremated individual and understood the techniques used to reveal new insights about early Roman Britain, you’ll discuss how to present your findings in a public exhibition.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Colchester is Britain’s earliest recorded town, and the remains of some of its first inhabitants survive in the form of buried cremations. Many of their secrets have remained a mystery to us, until now. The University of Reading and Colchester Museum are working together to analyse these cremations, some of which were found over a hundred years ago.

Skip to 0 minutes and 26 seconds Focusing on just one individual burial and using modern scientific approaches, you’ll begin to paint a picture of who this person was, uncovering where they came from, what their biological sex was, their age, and even any diseases they might have had.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 seconds You’ll explore Roman attitudes towards death, their funeral and burial process, and what this reveals about Romano-British identity. Join the team uncovering new Roman life in old museum collections on this free online course.

What topics will you cover?

  • The archaeology of early Roman Britain, in particular Colchester during the first century AD.
  • Roman attitudes to death and the different parts of the funerary process.
  • What modern osteoarchaeological analysis can reveal about the funerary process, age, sex, and the diseases that individuals lived with.
  • What isotope analysis can tell us about geographic origin and Roman migration.
  • How different archaeological methods are required to build up a picture of an individual and how this can be presented to the public.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the archaeology of early Roman Britain, in particular Colchester during the first century AD
  • Describe Roman attitudes to death and what a funeral would have looked, sounded and smelled like
  • Identify osteological techniques used to identify the age, biological sex, status and pathologies of individuals from cremated burials
  • Discuss what it means to be Romano-British
  • Understand the value of using new techniques to revisit, analyse and learn more from old museum collections.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in archaeology or history. You don’t need any previous experience to take part in this course.

It may be particularly useful if you’re thinking of studying archaeology in higher education.

Who will you learn with?

I am a professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Reading. I am interested in Roman mobility and migration, and in the relationships between people and objects.

I'm the Senior Collections & Learning Curator at Colchester Museums and have been leading on the 'Decoding the Dead' project in partnership with the University of Reading.

I am assistant curator at Colchester Museum and a specialist in Roman archaeology and material culture. I am the curator for the Decoding the Dead project in partnership with the University of Reading

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Colchester Museums

Colchester Museums look after some of the most important historic buildings and museum collections in the country.

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Arts Council England

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$79/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 8 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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