Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mystery Deepens Over Rare Roman Tombstone

Detail of the mysterious Roman inscription.
Cotswold Archaeology

Discovery News

Mystery has deepened over a Roman tombstone unearthed earlier this year in western England, as new research revealed it had no link with the skeleton laying beneath it.
The inscribed stone was discovered during the construction work of a parking lot in Cirencester.
Made from Cotswold limestone, it was found laying on its front in a grave — directly above an adult skeleton.
When it was turned over, the honey colored stone revealed fine decorations and five lines of Latin inscription which read: “D.M. BODICACIA CONIUNX VIXIT ANNO S XXVII,” possibly meaning: “To the shades of the underworld, Bodicacia, spouse, lived 27 years.”
The discovery was hailed as unique since the stone was believed to be the only tombstone from Roman Britain to record the person found beneath.
In fact, while the dedication on the tombstone is to a woman, the skeleton beneath it was that of a male.
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It turns out the gravestone and skeleton were also laid at different times — the inscribed stone was early Roman, dating to the 2nd century A.D., while the burial was most certainly late Roman, from the 4th century A.D..
“We believe the tombstone to have been re-used as a grave cover perhaps as long as two centuries after it was first erected,” Ed McSloy, Cotswold Archaeology’s finds expert, told Discovery News.
Martin Henig and Roger Tomlin, leading experts in Roman sculpture and inscriptions at the University of Oxford, noted that the back of the stone is very roughly worked, almost unfinished, in strong contrast to the finely sculpted front.
Unlikely to have been a free-standing tombstone, the five-foot-long inscribed stone may have rather been set into walls, possibly those of a mausoleum.
Who the grave belonged to remains a mystery.
“Reading the letters, the most plausible interpretation of the name is Bodicacia, a previously unknown Celtic name,” McSloy said.
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Indeed the name appears to be a variant of a Celtic name with same root as Boudicca. This was the rebel queen of the Iceni, a British tribe, who unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the Romans.
Bodicacia’s tombstone was also unique. The pediment, which is the decorated, triangular portion at top of the stone, shows the Roman god Oceanus.
A divine personification of the sea in the classical world, the god was portrayed with a long mustache, stylized long hair, and crab-like pincers above the head.
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The image, according to McSloy “is also hitherto unknown in funerary sculpture.”
Most likely, Bodicacia was deprived of her unique tombstone sometime in the fourth century, when her funerary stone was buried in a grave. At the same time or before this date, Oceanus was deliberately defaced.
“The most likely context for this would be early Christian iconoclasm,” McSloy said.
The tombstone will be soon put on permanent display at Cirencester’s Corinium Museum.

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