In the mid-1980s, excavations took place on the east side of Winchester Street, Andover. Along with medieval and post-medieval foundations, pits and cellars, a surprise find was part of a late Roman cemetery. In all, nine encoffined skeletons were found. Five graves were revealed in 1984, prior to the construction of the Southern Distributor Road for the town, and three years later four more burials were excavated, under salvage conditions.
The later discoveries included two burials in a large rectilinear pit containing a timber-lined mortuary chamber, one of them being a secondary insertion. The large size of the chamber may indicate the high status of the earlier interment. The later burial lay parallel to the original one, on a ledge a few inches above the base of the original cut. The existence of this ‘step-grave’ suggests the influence of the burial customs practised at the extensive (750 inhumations and 30 cremations) Romano-British cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester: seventeen such graves were found there during the 1967-72 excavations and four more in the 2000-2005 dig.
Two of the Andover burials had their heads displaced. One of them had been decapitated and the skull had been placed behind the knees: grave goods included an iron knife and two coins. This practice of decapitation was also found at Lankhills, Winchester: twelve such burials were present there, a large proportion with the head placed behind or on the feet or legs. Like the Andover decapitated skeleton, there was no evidence of mistreatment of the individuals. The purpose of this funerary rite may have been to release the soul or to prevent the dead from rising.
The quantity of grave goods found at the Winchester Street cemetery was generally sparse, and included one pottery vessel, three knives, a bone comb and bracelets. Eight of the burials included coffin nails, usually at the corners of the grave. Ten coins were recovered, spread between three burials. These indicate a burial date around the last quarter of the 4th century.
The cemetery lay only 0.5 km from the Winchester to Cirencester Roman road. No Romano-British settlement has been found in the immediate vicinity, but there was a report of a possible hypocaust (Roman underfloor heating system) only 20m away during the construction of the Savoy Cinema in London Street in the 1930s.
Hampshire Studies, 55 (2000), Karen Jennings,The excavation of nine Romano-British burials at Andover, pp 114 -132.
Clarke, G (1979)The Roman Cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester Studies 3.
Booth, P, et al (2010) The Late Roman Cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, with help from Stacie Elliot.