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Fountain at modern domus building at Viminacium, Serbia

Roman Skeletons Adorned in Jewelry Found in Serbia

Reuters has reported that archaeologists in Serbia have discovered a Roman sarcophagus that was intact and had been undisturbed for almost two thousand years. The tomb contains many precious items and it is one of the most important Roman finds in the country in recent decades. It was unearthed in Viminacium, an ancient Roman city, located in modern-day Serbia, some 75 miles (120 km) from Belgrade. The find is important but is also leading to questions, regarding what other treasures are yet to be unearthed at this unique archaeological site.

Part of the excavated Viminacium archaeological site. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Part of the excavated Viminacium archaeological site. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Roman Base at Viminacium

The site was originally a Roman military base that was located on an important road. The original army camp grew in size and eventually became a significant city with a population estimated to be some 40,000 people. Vimiacium had its own bathhouse and hippodrome and it became the provincial capital of the important province of Moesia (Serbia). The city was destroyed by the Huns in the 5 th century AD but was later re-built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian .  After a century of prosperity, the Slavs razed the city in the 7 th century and it was never reoccupied.

Viminacium was one of the few Roman urban centers that were not overbuilt with a modern city such as is the case with London or Strasbourg. The site was not properly excavated until the 19 th century.  It has yielded some remarkable artifacts such as mosaics inscribed with enigmatic magical charms and spells.  Serbian archaeologists have discovered some 13,500 tombs and sarcophagi at the site down the years but most of the area has not been investigated. According to Reuters ‘so far, only about 4 percent of it has been explored’.

Ruins of the mausoleum at Viminacium. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Ruins of the mausoleum at Viminacium. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Sarcophagus

A team from the Archaeological Institute of Serbia discovered the sarcophagus as part of an ongoing campaign at the Viminacium site. They discovered the tomb, opened it and were amazed at what they discovered. This is because the site has often been looted in the past and farmers have plowed the area for centuries. Finding a sarcophagus that is intact is regarded as remarkable. The artifacts and the skeletons were taken to the Serbian capital to be examined by experts.

The sarcophagus was discovered intact and seemingly undisturbed for 2000 years. (Youtube Screenshot)

The sarcophagus was discovered intact and seemingly undisturbed for 2000 years. ( Youtube Screenshot )

In the burial, there were two complete skeletons, who had been laid side by side.  There was no evidence of physical trauma on the bones. One of the skeletons belongs to a man and he was middle-aged and tall for the time.  The other skeleton belonged to a woman who was slim and somewhat younger than the male. It is possible that the two skeletons are those of a married couple, but this has not been established definitively.

Two skeletons were found in a sarcophagus uncovered at the Viminacium archaeological site. Image: Youtube Screenshot

Two skeletons were found in a sarcophagus uncovered at the Viminacium archaeological site. Image: Youtube Screenshot

The female skeleton was still adorned with jewellery. There were golden earrings in the shape of flowers and some beautifully crafted hairpins found. A golden necklace was also discovered by the archaeologists on the remains of the woman. Laid alongside the female skeleton were a silver mirror and three perfume bottles made of glass. The male skeleton had a silver belt buckle and was still wearing some shoes.  Other items found inside the grave included a ring.

The grave goods are telling experts a great deal about the individuals who were buried in the sarcophagus. The goods found would have been of great value and beyond the means of ordinary people and probably belonged to the more affluent members of Viminacium society.  Live Science reports that Ivan Mikic of the Archaeological Institute of Serbia has stated: " we can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class".

The surprising find of an intact sarcophagus at the site indicates the wealth and sophistication of Viminacium. It also demonstrates the standard of living in a Roman provincial capital. Perhaps the most important aspect of the discovery is that it raises the possibility of many more finds at the site. However, there are concerns that the find will lead to looters digging at the huge site and stealing precious artifacts.

Top image: Fountain at modern domus building at Viminacium, Serbia. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Any archeological finds.

Will someone please tell me what the difference is between an archeologist looting a grave and 'looters' taking the stuff out. They are grave robbers either way.

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