Our latest exhibition of Roman artefacts has just gone on show in our newest gallery – outside in the Museum Gardens!
Ben Turner, collections technician for York Museums Trust, explains more here:
If you’re a regular visitor to the gardens, you may have already noticed two lines of sarcophagi (or large stone coffins) appearing close to the medieval ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.
We’re just putting the final touches to some signs and labels explaining more about them after completing our research into their history.
It’s been some months since we first found three of them when we were clearing out one of the old museum stores.
Myself and Adam Parker were taken on back in December to undertake this work. Both of us have an archaeological background so it was fascinating to be able to look more closely at the Roman inscriptions on these huge stone objects.
Of the three we found there, two were originally found during excavations at the Castle Yard, in front of York Castle Museum, the other we’re not sure about.
We then moved several other sarcophagi to join them, which had previously been sited in the St Leonard’s Hospital ruins, between the Museum Street gates and York Explore (the Central Library).
We have arranged them in two rows to represent the way the Romans arranged their sarcophagi, usually with a path running down the centre. Typically the Romans preferred to cremate their dead, but during the third century, burying the dead in sarcophagi like these became more fashionable.
They were usually made of stone, wood or even tile. Bodies were washed, anointed in oils and dressed formally for the funeral. Offerings of food and wine were often left beside the grave.
We hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we have enjoyed researching them. It’s certainly been interesting for me to see the museum-side of archaeology compared with the field archaeology I’d been involved with before.