Excavation: Roman graves

by Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue August. 15, 2017 1618 views

I am an archaeologist and these are my first photos I shot on an excavation.

It was my first year at University of Vienna and my first excavation. So I was very excited, happy and damned nervous. I shot the photos always from the wrong direction and didn't wait for the right moment (after perfect cleaning of the surface and with the ranging rods and tape measure on spot).

The photos are in a really bad condition, but it’s how it is and how all began. The camera was a Nikkormat and the reversal film was a Fuji. Some photos are taken with the telephoto lens I gave to Tom some years ago. After the death of my brother-in-law he is now the only professional photographer in the whole family.

But in the end they were the perfect photos to explain pupils, what to expect on an excavation. I did this presentations at least 10-15 years until the photos nearly caught fire in an "prehistoric" projector. Shit, I love this old pictures, especially because I met my husband the first time during this campaign. I was bursting into tears. So I buried the photos very deep in my desk until I got the first (!) chance to scan them.

The problems: bad photos, worse scanner and worst of all the heat damage from the fire.

I took photos many years during many excavations, whole campaigns in every weather, standing on very, very high ladders, crouching over small pieces and crawling through holes and caves. But I swear I have never ever felt the same excitement on an excavation again but every photo was a lot more professionally done.

So this is me with my camera in 1982 and it was taken by my husband with his Canon during this excavation.

Sistlau and Nikkormat 1982

Sistlau and Nikkormat 1982

This is a field near Jois (Austria/Burgenland). The farmer ploughed this field and some large stone was catching the plow. He did the right thing and informed the police. The police informed the museum. The museum staff informed the archaeologist and the archaeologist asked me: Want to come with me?! At this time I was working for my first paper and exam. I was thrilled to go out on a dig. This was a lot better than staying inside the Museum with books, objects or searching through the cold and dark storage rooms.

We searched the area of the "plow accident". Not far under the surface was a great limestone slab. So this was a grave from the roman period and it wasn't robbed, because the slab still closed the grave. The square we dug up around the grave was 5 m x 5 m. On the second day we found a second grave without a slab. This one was already robbed in roman times.

Grave no 1

Grave no 1

Grave no 1 and Grave no 2 (still most parts under the surface) in the background

Grave no 1 and Grave no 2 (still most parts under the surface) in the background

Lots of visitors came. The most visitors came to watch the moment when the slab was lifted. They were expecting gold, gold and – did I mention it? – gold or at least Attila (ca. 406-453) ruler of the huns. No other explanation was accepted.

Lifting the slab

Lifting the slab

The first glimpse under the slab revealed the truth. There was just more earth. This roman grave (2nd/3rd century AD) was built from ancient tombstones (1st century AD) and of course it wasn't a secure box made of Tupperware.

No gold ...

No gold ...

It took quite a while to excavate the inside of the grave. You can see on the left Landesarchäologe Dr. Karl Kaus (1940-2015), digging up the grave Dr. Margarete Kaus and on the right is my "Mr. Right".

My future family ...

My future family ...

It was summer and it was hot, very hot: 40° C (104° F) without any shadow. We were roasted in the hot sun like meat on a grill. Two days we worked long after sunset. So nobody could disturb someway the graves during the night. In the light of the headlights of the car you could see the mosquitoes dance after they sucked us dry.

In the end we found in grave no. 1 (undisturbed) the remains of two women and in grave no. 2 (disturbed by grave robbers) only the skull and few bones of a man.

Female 1

Female 1

The woman (female 1) buried on the left side died first. The grave was built for her. After a time – maybe 10 years – the woman (female 2) on the right side died and was buried in the same grave. Therefore the older woman hat to be moved a little bit to the left. She was in a process of decomposing so some bones - for example the lower jaw - were dislocated.

Female 2

Female 2

In the grave were found some personal objects – like arm rings. The gifts for the afterlife were laid down in the space nearby the feet (pink): a glass bowl (red, broken in a million pieces), a long glass bottle (turquoise, 50 cm, maybe for perfume), a little ceramic jug (yellow) and small pieces of two boxes (green, one of bronze and one probably made of wood) inside there were black and white stones from a board game.

Gifts for the afterlife

Gifts for the afterlife

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There are 7 comments , add yours!
Camellia Staab 1 year, 2 months ago

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and seeing the photos. Very interesting Sigrid and thank you for sharing.

1 year, 2 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 2 years, 2 months ago

What a fantastic thing to do - seeing history first hand.

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue Replied to Helen Hooker 2 years, 2 months ago

Yes, it is! Sometimes it's like being a detective investigating a crime scene  ...

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Joe Zink 2 years, 2 months ago

What an interesting job!

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue Replied to Joe Zink 2 years, 2 months ago

yes, I love it. <3

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Heike 2 years, 2 months ago

Wow, very interesting story Sigrid ! I saw an similar excavation last year on a field in my neighborhood on my way to work. Later I read about it, there are 30-40 cremation graves were they found primarily clay fragments.  It must be a damn hard job !

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue Replied to Heike 2 years, 2 months ago

yes, but every job you enoy to do isn't hard at all! ;)
Since 2002 I don't do field work anymore and I do miss it very much.

2 years, 2 months ago Edited
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