Archaeologists working in southwest France have discovered hundreds of Gallo-Roman graves dating to the second half of the 2nd century AD, with some of the skeletons featuring shackles still strapped around their necks and ankles.
The site, which may have been part of an important Gallo-Roman necropolis, is situated near the amphitheatre of Saintes. The Romans dominated the area during the first and second centuries AD. The amphitheatre, which featured battles between gladiators and wild animals, could hold between 12-18,000 people. The remains of the dead would be ushered through the “Door of the Dead” and buried in the nearby necropolis.
The new excavation revealed several double burials where individuals where buried head to tail in a long rectangular pit (similar to a trench), and a multiple burial pit containing five people, including two children and two young women.
No goods were discovered in the graves, with the exception of a young child who was buried with seven vases dating to the second half of the 2nd century AD. The same burial, which is characteristically different than the other ones, also contained two coins, which were placed on the eyes of the child.
The archaeologists identified several individuals who appear to have been shackled. Four adults (three men and a subject of unknown gender) were found with iron shackles; three had shackles that were hot riveted around their left ankles and one had a “bondage collar”. One child had a more rudimentary object riveted around his left wrist. Another individual was constrained by multiple devices.
Archaeologists are now investigating the status of these individuals, including their origin and conditions of death. In future lab research, they hope to determine if other individuals buried in the region belonged to the same community.
Images: Frédéric Méténier, Inrap 2014