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Finding new life in old collections

Introducing the research project

Colchester is Britain’s earliest recorded town and, incredibly, the cremated remains of the people who lived there and helped birth Roman Britain survive. These cremated remains were excavated over 100 years ago and now reside in Colchester Museum stores.

We selected 22 cremations from more than 70 housed in the museum, chosen according to their potential for telling us about the person they represent in terms of surviving bone, associated grave goods, where they were found and what kind of container (if any) they were found in. We’ll follow the progress of research into one of these individuals, COL_20, in this course.

COL_20 refers to the 20th sample we analysed, COL referring to Colchester, as this burial group is now a part of the Colchester Museum collection. This sample came from the Mersea Barrow cremation, found on Mersea Island in 1912, a few miles south of Colchester on the Essex coast. A barrow is an earthen mound covering a burial; barrows were constructed in prehistoric Britain but also in the Roman world (where they are often called tumuli).

old sepia toned photo of a burial mound with a trench dug through it with wooden supports

Excavation through the Mersea Barrow in 1912. ©Colchester Museums.

Watch Dr Carolina Lima explain how the museum has preserved these old collections so that they could be revisited and analysed.

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Dead Interesting: Uncovering Roman Britain in Old Museum Collections

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