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The Late Roman Field Army in Northern Britain? Mobility, Material Culture and Multi-Isotope Analysis at Scorton (N Yorks.)

  • Hella Eckardt (a1), Gundula Müldner (a1) and Greg Speed (a2)


At Hollow Banks Quarry, Scorton, located just north of Catterick (N Yorks.), a highly unusual group of 15 late Roman burials was excavated between 1998 and 2000. The small cemetery consists of almost exclusively male burials, dated to the fourth century. An unusually large proportion of these individuals was buried with crossbow brooches and belt fittings, suggesting that they may have been serving in the late Roman army or administration and may have come to Scorton from the Continent. Multi-isotope analyses (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium) of nine sufficiently well-preserved individuals indicate that seven males, all equipped with crossbow brooches and/or belt fittings, were not local to the Catterick area and that at least six of them probably came from the European mainland. Dietary (carbon and nitrogen isotope) analysis only of a tenth individual also suggests a non-local origin. At Scorton it appears that the presence of crossbow brooches and belts in the grave was more important for suggesting non-British origins than whether or not they were worn. This paper argues that cultural and social factors played a crucial part in the creation of funerary identities and highlights the need for both multi-proxy analyses and the careful contextual study of artefacts.

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