Archaeologists from Bournemouth University have discovered human remains and artefacts which give new insight into how early Britons adapted to life after the Roman invasion.

Amongst the grave goods excavated from the 2000-year-old burial pits and graves are Roman-style wine cups and flagons, which suggest that Mediterranean alcohol had become popular addition to British life around the time of the Roman conquest in AD 43.

Students and staff from Bournemouth University have been excavating Iron Age settlements at the site at Winterborne Kingston for over fifteen years. Whilst they have previously discovered human remains and artefacts from before the Romans arrived, these are the first finds that can tell the story of people who lived through the invasion of Dorset.

“Being incorporated into the Roman Empire was one of the biggest societal changes in British history,” said Dr Miles Russell, Principal Academic in Archaeology at Bournemouth University, who is leading the dig.

“It’s all very well learning about the Roman legions and their conquests, but we wanted to find the farmsteads and burials that tell us what life was like for ordinary Britons and what happened to them at the time – did they become part of the wider empire, did they resist, or did they carry on living as they had always done? So finding a site like this was critical,” he added.

Three graves in particular indicate the extent to which the local Durotriges tribe partially integrated into certain Roman ways of life.

The first contained the bodies of two women, aged in their thirties who had been buried together. The student archaeologists found a roman-style wine flagon and goblets alongside the remains.

“The women were buried in the traditional Iron Age way – on their side in a foetal position. So, although the grave was dug ten to twenty years after the Romans arrived, in the mid to late first century AD, it’s clear that the local people are not becoming Roman in a big way, merely taking things from the Romans that enhance and improve their life, in this instance wine,” Dr Russell explained.

Another grave contained two dog burials which is significant because hunting dogs were very important to Iron Age society and were a key British export for the Roman elite. Despite their status, Dr Russell suspects the dogs may in this case have been sacrificed to the gods because of their placement in the grave and the fact they both died at the same time.

A third grave contained the remains of a man who had been buried in more classic Roman way, with arms folded across his chest, in a coffin, a large number of iron nails being found alongside his remains.

“Our more Roman-style graves, set down in the second and third century are low in artefacts,” explained Paul Cheetham, co-director of the project. “This suggests that although burial customs were changing over time, the farmers of this area, despite being part of a wider empire, weren’t benefitting much from belonging to the Roman world and were maintaining more native culture patterns.”

Although the wine vessels excavated from the early graves look Roman, the team have identified that they were local copies of Mediterranean style vessels manufactured in nearby Poole harbour.

“They are made from a local fabric by a local potter, but they are very much in a Roman style and not something we had found in local traditions before,” said Kerry Barras, a visiting researcher at Bournemouth University and Finds Manager at the site. “So they are taking their designs and copying them. They are mixing their traditions, taking on some of the Roman culture and influence, but they were found by a crouched burial which is not Roman and a part of more regional British tribal culture,” she added.

The dig will continue for another two weeks, after which the archaeology will be returned to farming. All human remains and artefacts will undergo further testing at Bournemouth University to help learn more about the life in early Roman Dorset. Dr Russell and the team of staff and students will return to the site next summer to carry out further excavations of the land nearby.