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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.

Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections

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.

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 does geographical origin relate to ethnicity and cultural identity?
  • 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 learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

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, 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 Musuems

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


supported by

Arts Council England

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