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Gallo-Roman Sarcophagi Find Volume 51 Number 4, July/August 1998
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

The collapse of a vault under an old quarry in Naintré, north of Poitiers in west-central France, has yielded two undisturbed Gallo-Roman sarcophagi dating to the fourth century A.D. Archaeologists say few such sarcophagi have been found intact since most were destroyed or reused over the centuries. The sarcophagi, found in two separate, enclosed chambers, contained the remains of a youth and a woman whom researchers think belonged to a wealthy landowning family. Some sort of grave marker, now missing, probably stood above the crypts, which excavators believe were near a family villa.

A team led by Bernard Farago of the Association pour les Fouilles Archéologiques Nationales and Henri Duday of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique has not yet determined the youth's sex, but burial objects found near the sarcophagus suggest a young girl. Farago and Duday found at least five glass vases at the foot of the youth's sarcophagus, a few of which were destroyed when the vault caved in. Nearby were an ivory writing table, a bronze basin, probably once surrounded by basketry, and a few bronze rings. The sarcophagus was flanked on one side by a ceramic pitcher, a Neolithic polished ax, and gaming pieces. On the other was a wood box containing a comb, a bronze mirror, and a second wood box holding four glass vials of perfume. The team hopes to analyze and re-create the perfume. Inside the sarcophagus was a lead coffin holding the youth, who was covered with several layers of clothing, including a tunic made of gold, an "unbelievable" find, according to Farago. At the feet were remains of juniper or bayberries.

The woman's crypt contained fewer grave goods: an amphora at the foot of the sarcophagus, a bronze pitcher and possibly a pair of sandals at the head. Farago and Duday will conduct DNA tests to determine if the woman and the youth were related.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America