Archaeologists in the UK have unearthed the remains of a shackled slave in Britain from the time of the Roman Empire.
The “internationally significant” discovery was published in the journal Britannia Monday. Museum of London Archaeology researchers say the findings prove “unquestionable” evidence of “the role slavery has played throughout history.”
It was a team of construction workers in the village of Great Casterton, in England’s East Midlands, that first stumbled on the skeleton, and brought it to police in Leicestershire where radiocarbon dating revealed origins dating to AD 226-427. Further investigation found the body was that of a man, estimated to be in his late 20s or early 30s at his death.
“The chance discovery of a burial of an enslaved person at Great Casterton, reminds us that even though the remains of enslaved people can often be difficult to identify, that they existed during the Roman period in Britain is unquestionable,” said MOLA archaeologist Chris Chinnock in a statement.
“Therefore, the questions we attempt to address from the archaeological remains can, and should, recognise the role slavery has played throughout history,” Chinnock concluded.
While the practice of slavery during the Roman Empire is widely presumed by archaeologists and historians, it is rare to come across such a clear sign of the brutality endured by slaves throughout human history, as indicated by the iron ankle fetters and haphazard burial.
“The discovery of shackles in a burial suggests that they may have been used to exert power over dead bodies as well as the living, hinting that some of the symbolic consequences of imprisonment and slavery could extend even beyond death,” added MOLA specialist Michael Marshall.
A bony spur in his leg is a clue at some such trauma, as well as the awkward position in which he was lain to rest — well outside of a nearby Roman cemetery, as if “dumped into a ditch,” Marshall pointed out.
“Taken together with the shackles [these details imply] mistreatment and quite a lot of disrespect of the body,” Marshall later told the Independent.
It was unusual for a slave to be buried with their shackles as the “fairly sophisticated” tools were valuable, according to Marshall, who believes this man may have been meant to serve as an example to other slaves.
“I can’t get past the idea that somebody was trying to make a point,” he told the Independent. “Whether that’s for the benefit of other people who are still alive, saying this person is a slave and will remain a slave even in death, or whether it is intended to have some sort of magical or religious dimension to it.”
The shackles also suggest that the master may have been worried about a haunting by the slave whom they’d abused, as some Romans believed that chains could prevent a vengeful ghost from returning.
“They are worried about the implications of [their abuse] if they are a suspicious person,” Marshall said of the archetypal Roman slave master. “They have some concerns about what the consequences of their actions might be and perhaps burying somebody with their feet shackled is a way to get around that.”