Roman cemetery with glass urn discovered

A glass urn was found in a grave. © Martina Pauli, BLfD

Insights into the life and death of the Romans in today’s Bavaria: excavations near Erding have uncovered the traces of a 2000-year-old cemetery. It appears to have belonged to a Roman estate previously discovered nearby. In one of the twelve urn graves found so far, the archaeologists came across a special burial vessel: a glass urn. They also found a weathered grave figure and the traces of a pyre that was once used for cremation. The finds shed light on how the inhabitants of the region treated their dead in Roman times, the archaeologists say.

Where gravel is quarried today in the Eichenkofen district of Erding, there was a Roman estate around 2000 years ago, as was already known from earlier finds. This villa rustica was located east of the Roman road that once crossed the region. In 2019, further finds made it clear that the property had extremely comfortable furnishings: the foundations of at least two stone buildings were excavated, which indicate a Roman bath complex.

Burial ground of Villa Rustica

As the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BlfD) now reports, new discoveries in the area have expanded the picture of the life of the ancient Romans in today’s Erding to include the aspect of death: the archaeologists are near the excavation area of ​​the Villa Rustica on twelve Roman urn graves encountered Apparently it was therefore the burial place of the former property. As the team explains, in the Roman Empire around 2,000 years ago, it was customary to cremate the deceased on a kind of pyre called the ustrina. The remains were then placed in urns, which were then buried.

These vessels were usually made of ceramics, but more specialized materials from the Roman Empire are also known. In the case of one of the graves in Eichenkofen, archaeologists have now come across an example of an urn made of blown glass. According to the dating, it comes from the middle imperial period. The urn originally stood in a pit lined and covered with brick slabs. The experts managed to salvage the exceptionally well-preserved vessel complete with its contents. As the team points out, this rarely succeeds with such fragile objects.

A winged lion guarded the grave site

In the foreground the presumed cremation place, on the left edge of the picture the Roman glass urn. © Martina Pauli, BLfD

As the BlfD reports, the burial site has other interesting aspects: Apparently it was once equipped with an impressive burial monument. This included a fully sculpted animal figure, the material of which probably came from the Alpine region. The limestone is badly weathered and the head is missing, but hind legs, the back and forelegs and the beginnings of wings can be seen. According to the scientists, it could have been a lion griffin or a sphinx.

The findings were rounded off by traces in the nearby subsoil, which are probably the Ustrina – i.e. the pyre on which the dead person was once burned. This is indicated by the numerous layers of ash in the pit and vessels used for the burial rites, such as incense gobs, the team explains. The archaeologists also found iron nails that probably come from the bier or the pyre.

As the BlfD finally reports, the investigations are now to continue: The salvaged glass urn is to be analyzed in detail in the restoration workshops of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation – including through X-rays. The grave goods, which the excavation team has also found at the burial site, are also to be examined more closely. Among them are plates, bowls, oil lamps, incense gobs and a bracelet. The team hopes to gain further clues to the story that the Roman burial ground in Erding has to tell.

Source: Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments

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