Investigations by Wessex Archaeology on land adjacent to Little Keep, Dorchester, have revealed the foundations of barrack buildings dating from the 1860s and part of a late Roman cemetery.
The remains of 29 inhumation burials, a mortuary enclosure and a possible boundary gully were found. The burial ground lay approximately 300m to the south of the large well-known Roman cemetery at Poundbury. The remains of several other contemporary burials have been found in the area since the 19th century.
The cemetery at Little Keep is unusual due to the high frequency of ‘deviant’ burial rites. A high percentage of bodies had been buried prone (face-down), whilst several others had been decapitated, the head being placed by the legs. The evidence suggests that an ageing population made use of this area for burials, reflected in the relatively high rates of degenerative joint diseases and lack of immature individuals. There was a higher proportion of males, with a number showing signs of traumatic injury including evidence for interpersonal violence.
A small assemblage of grave goods was found which included several examples of apotropaic nails (possibly to ward off evil or bad luck), and evidence for coffins together with well-preserved human remains. A small quantity of prehistoric flintwork and pottery of Roman and later date was also recovered.
The full report can be read below and a detailed examination of the mortuary rituals is published in the Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society (volume 130, 2009, 43-61).