Human burial diagram

Roman British Decapitation Burials

Blog by Shaheen Christie

Shaheen Christie is studying for a PhD at the University of Wisconsin focussing on Roman British decapitation burials. She visited the museum to study the remains of Roman decapitations from Cirencester and the Cotswolds. In this blog entry Shaheen discusses her research. We look forward to hearing the results of her studies.

My doctoral dissertation research focuses on exploring the cultural narratives of individuals who were decapitated during the Roman period from sites in the modern counties of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. My research combines data drawn from bioarchaeological, settlement, mortuary, and historical literature sources to address questions related to those individuals’ health, life course, funerary deposition and rituals, familial affiliation, and identity. The broader goals of my project are to identify whether or not any patterns emerge in their mortuary treatment compared to the wider population over time; to identify if those patterns (if any) reflect continuity of Late Iron Age mortuary practices and religious rituals within and between those sites the region; and, to reflect broadly on what those patterns (if any) can tell us about the contextual uses of the body, the application of trauma, and the power of both in relation to transformative conceptions of death and time in Roman society.

I began to research the topics of funerary rituals and warfare in the Roman world in the fall of 2012, although my interest in Roman archaeology spans to my formative childhood years. Since discovering my keen interest in funerary archaeology, I chose to specialize in bioarchaeology and funerary studies. I have always been interested in the ways in which the public today view the past, especially those cultural narratives deemed ‘strange’, ‘weird’, or ‘other’ – this is a hallmark of anthropological teachings – to avoid censure of materials, objects, or peoples appearing different from ourselves. In reading more about mortuary archaeology and Roman practices, my research interests became intensely focused on those individuals in decapitation burials, not merely because of their mode of death or mortuary contexts, but due to the sensationalized commentary regarding their burials. In designing this project, it is my intention to utilize a holistic approach to learn more about them as people rather than objects of speculation and cultural censure.

To access the collections housing the finds and skeletal remains, as well as the full site archives, I will be traveling to a total ten institutions across England. The Corinium Museum was the first institution on my list to visit, as it holds materials from 6 sites included in the sample for my project (Bath Gate, St. James’ Place – Former Bridge’s Garage/Tetbury Road, Claydon Pike, the Cotswold Community Water Park, Horcott Quarry, and Kempsford Quarry). I consider myself incredibly lucky for the opportunity to access these collections to begin with, but to have the guidance through the process of the staff at the Museum was an invaluable experience for my first overseas research trip. My project would have been impossible to complete given the in-depth nature of the research into the data retrieved from these individuals if I was unable to access the collections at the Corinium Museum, and, moreover, impossible to complete without the working knowledge of the staff, especially the Collections Officer James Harris. From the very start of my inquiries abroad in 2017, James was available to answer my questions and provide me with the correct protocols necessary to review and address prior to my visit. In total, it took two years to line up all of the details related to the data and correspond with the institutions to schedule research visits. The Corinium Museum was the most straightforward and easiest of the institutions to visit and work within during my research visit from May – June 2019. I would very happily work with the staff again in the future – it was an absolute delight! To any future researchers, I highly recommend visiting The Corinium Museum to see the museum and their collection stores (either in Cirencester or Northleach).

To the public, please keep visiting this museum and thank the lovely staff for their efforts in preserving its archaeological collections.

Thank you to the staff, once again, for providing such a wonderful space for your researchers and the public!

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