The Roman Cemetery at Brougham, Cumbria: Excavations 1966-67

Mark Bell, H E M Cool, 2004

Data copyright © Mark Bell, Dr H E M Cool unless otherwise stated

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Dr H E M Cool
Barbican Research Associates
16 Lady Bay Road
West Bridgford
Tel: 0115 9819 065

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Mark Bell, H E M Cool (2004) The Roman Cemetery at Brougham, Cumbria: Excavations 1966-67 [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


Project Background

The Roman fort and settlement of Brougham is situated on the west side of the broad Eden valley, some 2km to the south-east of the modern town of Penrith, and a similar distance to the east of the modern cross-roads of the north-south A6 trunk road and the east-west A66. It lay at the junction of several important Roman roads. The road north went to Carlisle, that to the south went to Ribchester and beyond. To the east a road went across the Pennines to Catterick and York. To the west a minor road led to the Lake District forts of Ambleside and Hardknott. Little is known of the fort and vicus because very little excavation has ever been carried out. There are, however, many antiquarian finds of gravestones, altars etc.

In 1966 it was realised that the proposed widening and re-routing of the A66 to the east of the modern village of Brougham would cut through a Roman cemetery. The then Ministry of Public Buildings and Works conducted preliminary excavations in the summer under the direction of the late Dorothy Charlesworth. It was intended that more extensive excavations would take place in 1967 in advance of the building work. Unfortunately the building work started unexpectedly early in 1967 and so the excavations took place under very difficult rescue circumstances. They were directed by the late Tony Pacitto.

Various attempts have been made to study the archive over the subsequent years. The data lodged with the ADS results from the work done in the period 2000-2002 which has led to the final publication of the site. The aim of the project was to re-assess the material in the light of methodological advances in the interpretation of cremated remains and theoretical approaches to mortuary ritual in the Roman north. The research aims identified were:

  • Placing the assemblage in the public domain
  • Establishing the funerary ritual at Brougham
  • Placing the Brougham ritual within the regional and national background
  • Establishing the nature of the occupation at Brougham in the 3rd century
  • Preparing the archive to be a lasting research resource

The Excavations

The excavations were centred on National Grid Reference NY 545290 and covered an area of approximately 70 metres north/south by 200 metres west /east. The cemetery lay on the hilltop to the east of the fort and vicus and mainly to the north of the Roman road that ran across the Pennines. It was thought that the full west / east extent of the cemetery was explored but it was likely that it had originally extended further north in an area that was not excavated.

In 1966 12 trenches were opened. In 1967 there were two seasons of excavation. The first under very difficult circumstances when the building work started. The second under more controlled circumstances when access to an area 17×80metres was negotiated for three weeks.

The records for the excavations are very variable. Most of the paper record for 1966 has disappeared over the years but the original site plan, photographs and a small notebook do survive. A site plan also survives for the 1967 work together with the notebooks (called cremation books) that recorded all the finds recovered. There is a notebook summarising the excavations for the first season together with some drawings of individual features and some photographs. It should be realised that the aim of the first season was to rapidly excavate graves prior to them being destroyed by the earthmoving machines. Detailed recording was not an option for the excavators. There are two notebooks for the second 1967 season with more detailed context descriptions, drawings of individual features and proportionally more photographs.

For all stages of the excavation additional information about the deposits can be gained from the information written on the bags in which the finds were stored. In 1967 finds were allocated an alphabetic code with the first two letters being the site code (BC/AA, BC/AB etc). It is often possible to identify where the cremated bone came from as it was given the same code as the vessel it was found in. Some but not all small finds were also allocated a small find number.

Post Excavation Work

Previous attempts to analyse the archive had been unsuccessful because not all the elements now known to survive had been located. The 2000 to 2002 work commenced by entering all the known information onto a set of linked databases. A new unique number was assigned to each deposit as the original numbering system included duplicates. Grid references were also calculated. New reports were commissioned on the cremated bone (human and animal) and the pottery, and existing reports on other classes of finds were updated.

The original excavators had considered that approximately 40% of the graves had been robbed. In the light of new studies of cremation burial, it was suspected that most of these robbed deposits were in fact re-deposited pyre debris. This was found to be the case when the distribution of the pyre goods was examined. It was possible to classify deposits into four main categories urned cremation burials, unurned cremation burials, pyre debris deposits, and special pot deposits. The latter had all hallmarks of being an urned cremation burial apart from the fact that no or very little human bone was found with them. Some of the urned cremation burials had re-deposited pyre debris in the fill. A very small number of deposits had been deliberately emptied as something had clearly been removed from them. A small number long cists were recovered that were thought to have originally contained inhumations though no bone remained because the extremely acid soil at Brougham.

Phasing was provided by the pottery as very few of the deposits had any recoverable stratigraphic relationships. The key phasing tool were Black Burnished 1 jars. The cremation cemetery was divided into three phases. The long cists were clearly of Roman or later date because several used broken fragments of Roman tombstones in their construction. They were assigned to Phase 4, though it is possible they are contemporary with the cremation burial cemetery, it is thought they were of late Roman or sub-Roman date. The phasing of the cremation cemetery is as follows.

  • Phase 1 c. A.D. 200/20 to 240,
  • Phase 2 c. A.D. 240 to 270,
  • Phase 3 c. A.D. 270 to 300/310. The deposits with Crambeck greywares allowed a slight refinement of the Phase 3 dates to A.D. 280/5 to 300/10. These have been designated Phase 3b.

It became clear that there were strong associations between particular types of grave and pyre goods. These associations were tested using statistical significance tests.

The 2000-2002 Project Team

The project team and their responsibilities were as follows:

Lindsay Allason-JonesEarrings
M.J. BaxterStatistical analysis
Justine BayleyScientific analysis of the brooches
Julie BondAnimal bone
Sarnia ButcherBrooches
Gill CampbellCharcoal
H.E.M. CoolLead author and glass
B. DickinsonSamian pottery
David DungworthScientific analysis of the brooches
Jeremy EvansLead author on pottery
A.P. FitzpatrickFuneral monuments and inscriptions
S. GreepWorked bone
B.R. HartleySamian pottery
Martin HenigIntaglios
Jacqueline I. McKinleyHuman bone and cremation ritual
Quita MouldLead author on small finds
H.W. PengellySamian pottery
Jacqui WatsonMinerally preserved organics
Tony WilmottNorthern archaeology background
Fay WorleyAnimal bone

In addition a report on a pipe clay figurine by the late Frank Jenkins is included in the report. The database used during the analysis was designed by Phil Mills. The database prepared for the ADS and the CD that accompanies the report was prepared by Mark Bell.

Summary Results

The cremation cemetery was used for a relatively short period c. AD 200 to 310 at the widest estimate and more likely only from c. AD 220 to 300. No certain pyre sites could be identified within the area excavated, but the amount of pyre debris recovered indicates they must have been very close. The cemetery was orderly and there is no evidence of one grave cutting another apart from in the case of the long cists. This orderliness and the gravestones found before, during and after the excavations suggest the graves would have been clearly marked. Evidence of at least two funerary monuments in the form of towers were recovered. There is evidence that these would have been decorated by sculptured reliefs.

People of all ages were buried in the cemetery other than very young babies of less than 6 months. There are some changes with time. in Phase 1 people of all ages are found scattered throughout the area. In Phase 2 the graves of infants (defined here as those individuals aged 5 years or less) were concentrated around one the monumental towers. There are no infants assigned to Phase 3, possibly suggesting that the appropriate place to bury them had moved to an area of the cemetery that was not excavated.

There was very strong evidence that the whole funeral ritual was governed by the age and sex of the deceased. Adults were taken to their pyres on biers decorated by bone veneers probably inlaid into the wood, the remains of immature individuals were not found associated with these veneers. Amongst the pyre goods, whole animals and joints of meat were burnt with the adults but not the children. The same pattern could be seen in metal vessels, and for them there was some evidence that large buckets were the preserve of adult females. Other pyre goods included items of ivory, military equipment, figurines and jewellery. The range of animals identified included horses, sheep, cattle, chicken, geese and a dog. Pigs were conspicuously rare. It was clear that a considerable amount of wealth was consumed by the pyre.

Some of the cremated bone was gathered for formal burial. The normal rite was as an urned burial but unurned burials were also present. The burials were made in both pits and cists. Grave goods were overwhelmingly in the form of pottery vessels with BB1 jars generally being used as urns. There were considerable numbers of Trier colour-coated beakers and a large samian assemblage, mainly of East Gaulish origin but including some decorated Central Gaulish bowls that were clearly antiques when deposited. A noteworthy element of the samian assemblage were the number of samian mortaria that had been deposited as grave goods. Glass vessels, primarily drinking vessels, were also present as well as an enamelled copper alloy patera. This too must also have been an antique when deposited.

The selection of grave goods was also clearly influenced by the age and sex of the deceased. Samian cups (Dr. 33) were only found with very young children whereas the deep samian bowls were only placed with adults. It was also noticeable that items that could be viewed as antiques were placed with the oldest adults. In Phase 1 colour-coated beakers were only ever placed with children. Glass drinking cups were the preserve of men. In the light of these very strong associations, the fact that some adult females were found who had clearly had military equipment and horses placed on their pyres opened up interesting questions about the gender roles they adopted in life.

There were indications in the material culture, from the epigraphic evidence and from some elements of the grave ritual that the people being buried had come from the Danubian area, and it can be suggested that this cemetery was used by a particular army unit and their families who had been transferred from that area.

An Introduction to the database

The database consists of nine tables:

Brougham Database Description

A table listing all the other tables and fields in the database with a description of their content.


Lists the entire cremated animal bone; there can be multiple bone deposits for a grave. Animal bone grave number connects this table to the grave data table.

Bone_IDUnique number allocated in the 2000/2001 analysis
Animal_bone_grave_numberReferences the grave number in Grave_data table
SpeciesSpecies of animal if it can be determined
BoneElement of the skeleton
Side_of_animalLeft or right of animal if identified
Proximal_fusionProximal fusion if identified
Distal_fusionDistal fusion if identified
Animal_bone_burntYes/No field indicating burning observed
ColourDegree of burning observed
ButcheryButchery commented on where noted
PathologyPathology commented on where noted
AbrasionYes/No field indicating abrasion observed
Animal_bone_commentsGeneral comments
LocationThis is a four letter code (BC/AB) showing the original numbering system relating to the deposit. References to 198 relate to the position of items excavated under laboratory conditions.
Cremation catalogue

Lists the cremations found, there can be more than one cremation in a grave deposit. Cremation grave number links to the grave data table.

Cremation_IDUnique number allocated in the 2000/2001analysis
Cremation_grave_numberReferences the grave number in Grave_data table
Cremation_weight_in_gramsTotal weight of bone in grams processed in 2000/2001 season. This includes all bone human, animal and artefactual. It excludes the many veneers removed prior to 2000.
Cremation_ageBroad age category
Cremation_age_fromIn years
Cremation_age_ToIn years
SexSex, where it can be determined
PathologyListing of pathology for the cremation. The pathology codes are listed in the Pathology_codes table
Cremation_commentsGeneral comments. The weight of pyre goods only refers to those removed during 2000/2001 processing

This is the main table and links to the other tables using the Grave_Number field. This includes the transcription of the original site notebook entry for each deposit. The grave number has been allocated during the new analysis of 2000-2001.

Grave_NumberThe new reference number for deposits
Year_of_excavationYear excavated
Original_grave_number_and_descriptionOriginal grave number
Site_book_entryTranscript of information in site notebooks and cremation books
PhaseThe phase assigned to the grave; 0 is unstratified no phase
X_co-ordinateGrid reference allocated in 2000/2001
Y_co-ordinateGrid reference allocated in 2000/2001
TypeInterpretation of the deposit

This table explains the code letters in the field Pathology in the table Cremation_catalogue.

CodePathology code letters
DescriptionDescription of the pathology

This table lists the pottery found. References the grave by the field Pot_grave_number.

Pot_IDUnique number allocated in the 2000/2001 analysis
Pot_grave_numberReferences the grave number in Grave_data table
Original_sf_codeOriginal code given to pottery as recorded on them or their packaging. Generally in form of four letter code (BC/AB), occasionally in the form of a small find number
WareFabric code as listed in Pottery_fabric_code table
Number_of_sherdsNumber of pot sherds
Pot_weight_in_gramsWeight in grams
Minimum_number_of_vesselsMinimum number of vessels present
Pot_typeType of pot for functional analysis
Diameter_cmRim diameter in centimetres
Rim_equivalent_percentageProportion of circumference of rim extant maximum 100
Base_equivalent_percentageProportion of circumference of base extant maximum 100
Base_diameter_cmBase diameter in centimetres
Pot_date_fromIn years AD
Pot_date_toIn years AD
SootDescription where sooting, burning and limescale, if any, occured on pot
RepairDescription of repair, if any, on the pot
Pot_catalogue_entryCatalogue entry for pot
Pot_burntPresence or absence of burning thought to be associated with pyre

This table explains the codes used in the Ware field of the Pot_catalogue table.

WareFabric code letter
Pot_descriptionDescription of fabric. Note some codes refer to single sherds no longer identifiable

This table lists the small finds from each grave, with a description and links to the main grave table using the Small_find_grave_number field.

Small_find_numberUnique number allocated in 2000/2001 analysis
Small_find_grave_numberReferences the grave number in Grave_data table
Original_sf_numberThe small find number assigned during excavation and marked on the packaging. Very few items seem to have been allocated numbers originally
Site_referenceThe original code given to the finds as recorded on the packaging. Generally in the form of a four letter code (BC/AB)
Simple_nameSimple name for the object
MaterialMaterial the object is made from
Bone_veneer_classificationFor bone veneers only. Broad bone veneer type listed in Veneer_type table, but this includes more detailed classification
SF_catalogue_entryCatalogue number of the items as they appear in chapter 4 of report
StateWhether the item shows obvious signs of burning from the pyre
DateA spot date if it is possible to assign one
Count_of_fragmentsNumber of items, multiple fragments of a single item have been recorded as one (1)
SF_weight_in_gramsWeight of iron nails and melted glass only, in grams
SF_commentsThese comments relate to deposit 198 and give the position of items as excavated under laboratory conditions

This lists the broad classification of the bone veneer types, listed in the Small_finds table field Bone_veneer_classification.

CodeBroad bone veneer classification
DescriptionDescription of the bone veneer class