Africans in Roman YorkMarch 1, 2010
Thanks to Mark for pointing out this article in the Times Online about the skeleton of a young African woman buried in York. She seems to have been wealthy, possibly a Christian, and – to judge by the state of her bones – unaccustomed to heavy work. There’s a fine photo of her reconstructed face in the article, which I daren’t reproduce here in case they sue me.
As Mark points out, ‘It makes you wonder about the level of cultural diversity that the Romans introduced when they came to Britain.’
It also makes me wonder about the accuracy of some news reporting, since one or two articles in the ensuing media blizzard have promoted her to ‘African Queen.’ This would be nice if it were true, but it’s completely unproven.
Unable to resist adding to the vast amount of comment that ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ has attracted, I see from the caption on the second photo that her remains were excavated in 1901. Presumably she’s been re-examined recently in the light of new knowledge. There have been suggestions that other folk buried in Roman York were of African descent, too, although I don’t know whether they were around at the same time. (Maybe they had some connection with the Emperor Severus, who came from North Africa and was based in York many decades before her.)
What I’d like to know is whether this is actually unusual. What you discover about a skeleton must to some extent depend on what you test it for – and what you test it for must depend on all sorts of factors, including how much time and money you have. So, do we have a unique lady from the fourth century or an especially observant and well-funded bunch of archaeologists from the twenty-first? If anyone knows, please get in touch. Meanwhile, one wonders how many other surprises are lying quietly unexamined in museum store-rooms…
Incidentally, they seem to have all sorts of interesting skeletons in York. Remember this article from 2005?