Archaeologists in France have discovered the remains of a Roman-era child who appears to have been buried with their pet dog, at a site near Clement-Ferrand in what would have been part of Roman Gaul.
The child, believed to have been around one year old, was buried in a wooden coffin 80cm long made with nails and marked with a decorative iron tag. Archaeologists said they also found an ornamental copper pin used to attach a shroud.
The coffin was placed in a 2 metre by 1 metre grave and surrounded by around 20 objects including a number of miniature terracotta vases and glass pots thought to have contained oils and medicines, half a pig, three hams and other cuts of pork, and two headless chickens.
A young dog was placed at the feet of the deceased outside the coffin. The puppy was wearing a collar with bronze decorations and fitted with a small bell. A a 30cm iron ring attached to a bent metal rod, which archaeologists believe to be a toy, had also been slipped between the animal’s legs.
Adults were usually cremated in Roman Gaul, but children were often buried at the family property, suggesting a sizeable villa existed nearby.
Although the burial of young children with dogs is well documented from this period, the collar fitted with a bell is unusual.
Child burials are undoubtedly among the most sad and difficult discoveries that archaeologists ever make, but they can also remind us of the love and relationships that held families together in the past. Evidence of childhood, toys, and children’s possessions, are also often unusual to find, and provide valuable insight into what is an often overlooked part of life in archaeological studies.
“The items that accompany this deceased are absolutely exceptional, both in terms of quantity and quality,” said the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP).
“Such a profusion of crockery and butchered items, as well as the personal effects that followed the child to his grave, underline the privileged rank to which [their] family belonged”.
The burial was uncovered during a dig at a site at Clermont-Ferrand airport, in central France, to enable a development project to go ahead.
It is reported to be the oldest and most important find of a child’s burial in France. An older grave, believed to date from the Roman conquest of Gaul several decades earlier, contained a number of weapons, suggesting its occupant was a soldier.
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