Secrets of city’s ancient Roman coffin to be revealed in new exhibition

Unveiling a Millennia-Old Mystery at Leeds City Museum

Leeds City Museum is poised to display an ancient lead coffin, unearthed after laying dormant for over 1,600 years. Discovered by West Yorkshire Archaeological Services, the coffin’s origins trace back to a previously unidentified site near Garforth. Contained within this metallic vessel were the remains of a woman, estimated to be between 25-35 years old. Described as a find of a lifetime, her final resting attire consisted of a bracelet, a glass bead necklace, and what is thought to be a finger ring or earring – suggesting a status of considerable significance, perhaps even Roman aristocracy.

Further intrigue was added by the additional discovery of a child’s remains, estimated to be around 10 years old. While their identity and relationship to the woman remain mysterious, carbon dating techniques have confirmed that their burials were contemporaneous. This raises compelling questions about the burial rites practiced in late Roman Britain. The coffin, along with its fragile lid, has undergone extensive conservation to prepare for its exhibition debut. Scheduled for the Living with Death exhibition, the display promises a multifaceted exploration of global attitudes towards mortality.

The Garforth dig of 2022 was prolific beyond the lead coffin, yielding the remains of over 60 individuals. These remains represent both late Roman and early medieval inhabitants, their graves brimming with artifacts such as knives and jewelry. These findings offer a unique window into the burial customs of a bygone era.

Cultural Perspectives on Death: A Global Exhibit

Living with Death, set to open on May 3, is more than a showcase of archaeological finds; it’s an elaborate tapestry of the human experience with death. Curator of archaeology, Kat Baxter, emphasized the exhibit’s significance, “This is a truly unique and remarkable find which has potentially huge implications for our understanding of the early history of Leeds and its residents.” Visitors can expect a thoughtful curation of exhibits that range from personal narratives to diverse cultural artifacts.

The exhibit’s highlights include:

  • An ornate Ghanaian coffin shaped like a lion, on loan from ArtDocs.
  • A Roman period painted mummy portrait from Egypt, provided by Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester.
  • Artifacts related to Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

Accompanying the display is a series of events designed to engage and educate. Workshops, family-friendly activities, and talks are slated to facilitate broader discussions on death—a topic that, despite its universality, is often shrouded in taboo.

Fostering Community Dialogue Through History

The exhibition holds particular resonance for the local community, with hopes of sparking conversations about a subject that unites us all. Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader, expressed anticipation for the exhibition’s ability to connect visitors with the city’s rich history and the global nature of death and dying. “This exhibition will reveal astonishing facts and information about how people lived and died in our city centuries ago,” Pryor commented, underlining the dual historical and cultural exploration offered by Living with Death.

Developed in collaboration with local communities, the exhibition also garners support from Dying Matters Leeds, a national campaign aimed at raising awareness around dying, death, and bereavement. The initiative is complemented by the generous sponsorship of Co-op Funeralcare. Leeds City Museum, the venue for this poignant exploration, has confirmed that the exhibition will be open to the public, free of charge, from May 3, 2024, to January 5, 2025.

For additional information about the exhibition and related events, interested parties are directed to the Leeds Museums & Galleries website.

Please note, the link provided is a placeholder and would need to be replaced with the correct URL for the Living with Death exhibition page.

By george