Beads and Bones - Archaeology at Gloucester Cathedral
There is a lot going on at Gloucester Cathedral at the moment as part of their exciting Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Project Pilgrim’. The project is described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to improve and restore particular areas of the Cathedral”. There will be work to conserve the 15th century Lady Chapel, new solar panels, and landscaping outside the cathedral to make a green outdoor space for everyone to enjoy.
Before the landscaping work in Upper College Green got underway, the archaeological team from Border Archaeology were called in. Helen Jeffrey, Community Engagement Manager at Gloucester Cathedral told YAC what they discovered…
Border Archaeology arrived on site in November 2016 and the team have made some fascinating discoveries. Because they were digging in the former lay cemetery at the Cathedral, where people who were not priests or other members of the clergy were buried, they did expect to find human remains and related objects. However, some of the discoveries were surprising.
Of particular interest were: a ledger stone in excellent condition; a Janus-faced rosary bead; and two Roman coins.
The ledger stone
The ledger stone was uncovered in land lying within a couple of metres of the existing cathedral wall. It records three family members who died between the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The Janus-faced bead
The Janus-faced bead find was a hot topic! Janus was a Roman god of time, and beginnings and endings. Experts have identified the find as a late-medieval memento mori rosary bead, dating to the early 16th century. One side of the bead represents life and the other side has a skull to represent death. Rosary beads are used by Roman Catholics whilst praying, and this example would have reminded its owner that they would themselves die, and should therefore think about how they lived.
A similar bead is on display at the Museum of London and other examples are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In early December, five coins were discovered together and sent off for identification and testing. Two of the coins uncovered are now confirmed as Roman and further tests should reveal more!
As we expected, the team have uncovered several articulated (or whole) skeletons. One of the skeletons is particularly interesting. Its vertebrae (bones of the spine) are fused together. This suggests that they had a rich and expensive diet, and so may well have been a high-status person (perhaps a monk).
Find out more!
The Border Archaeology team have been blogging about their discoveries.
During February half term we are running a series of sessions about the finds unearthed here plus a ‘bring your own finds’ roadshow! You can find out what's on at the Cathedral on our website.
And to be the first to know about the work at the Cathedral, ask your grown-ups to follow us on twitter! @ProjectPilgrim1 @GlosCathedral
Blog by Helen Jeffrey, Community Engagement Manager at Gloucester Cathedral