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Rare Roman headstone uncovered in England

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By Katia Hetter and Brandon Griggs

(CNN – Feb. 27, 2015) — A rare Roman tombstone discovered facedown weeks ago in England proved to be even more spectacular on Wednesday, when archaeologists turned it over.

The inscription on the front of the tombstone, discovered at a dig in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, reads: “To the spirits of the departed/Bodicacia/faithful wife/died aged 27,” according to a preliminary translation by Cotswold Archeology.

Most likely dating back to the 2nd century AD, the tombstone may be for a person named Bodicacia or Bodica, according to Ed McSloy, Cotswold Archaeology’s senior Finds and Archives officer. The name variations would be Latinized versions of Celtic names, though Cacia could be fully Roman, he said.

“It is also just possible that … the inscription contains two names and refers to a male Bodus and includes the female name Cacia — possibly the name of the wife,” wrote McSloy, via email.

The title “Coniunx” (faithful wife) in the inscription is sometimes used in association with freed slaves, McSloy added, so the person may have started life as a slave.

Finding an inscribed Roman tombstone in England is rare. Fewer than 300 have been found in Britain, and only 10 in Cirencester, McSloy said.

And locating it in a cemetery — where it was intended to be located — is also rare. “Most tombstones that are known have been re-used later in the Roman period as building stone, often built into town defenses,” McSloy explained.

“This tombstone was found in a grave, directly above an adult skeleton. It remains to be confirmed whether the skeleton is that of the named individual, or whether the tombstone was later re-used as a cover for the grave of another person.”

Analysis of the bones will likely determine the person’s gender, age at death, diet and if the person was local to the area, McSloy said.

The headstone still shows mason’s chisel marks and a design probably showing Oceanus, the god of the sea, with a long mustache, long hair and crab-like pincers above his head, McSloy said.

“We believe this is the first example of a tombstone (from Roman Britain, at least) where Oceanus is depicted,” he added. “In a funerary context it may symbolize the long ‘watery’ voyage to the afterlife.”

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