Bone and Bracelets Found in Roman Child's Coffin

This jet bracelet was found inside a Roman coffin uncovered in a field in England. (Image credit: Archaeology Warwickshire)

A group of archaeologists in England this week lifted the lid on a Roman child's coffin, discovering that it contains fragments of bones and two tiny bangles.

Last month, treasure hunters equipped with metal detectors led archaeologists to the rare lead coffin buried in a field in Warwickshire. The funerary box was child-sized, and researchers think it is likely more than 1,600 years old, dating back to the Roman occupation of Britain.

A crew with a group called Archaeology Warwickshire opened the coffin on Monday (Nov. 11) and found fragmentary skeletal remains and two bracelets made of jet, a dark black gemstone.

"Finding the two jet bangles was a surprise," Stuart Palmer, the business manager for Archaeology Warwickshire said in a statement. "They rather suggest that the child was female although we cannot say with certainty if they were worn as bracelets, clothing adornments or were woven into long hair."

Researchers took samples of the silt inside the coffin to investigate traces of the human remains and any other items that might have been inside, such as flowers, oils and clothing. The team says it might even be possible to detect evidence of ancient Roman medicines or drugs in chemical signatures in the samples.

Researchers took samples of material from inside and around the Roman coffin to learn more about the child who was buried inside of it 1,600 years ago. (Image credit: Archaeology Warwickshire)

"We will carefully sift through these over the coming weeks to recover as much as possible and determine if there is anything suitable for detailed analysis," Palmer said. "This will include the submission of a sample for a radiocarbon date, which we hope will narrow down the possible date range for the burial." (Radioactive carbon-14 is naturally occurring and decays at a predictable rate, giving scientists a way to determine the age of remains.)

Lead coffins are somewhat rare among burials in Britain. Earlier this year, when archaeologists lifted the lid on a stone coffin at the site of Richard III's rediscovered grave, they found another lead coffin inside. [In Photos: The Search for King Richard III's Grave]

Though the child's name has been lost to history, Archaeology Warwickshire has appealed to the public to vote on a moniker for him or likely her. The group has chosen five possible names based on Roman words: Oriens (rise – as the sun), Loquor (tell- declare), Addo (inspire), Accendo (illuminate) and Parvulus (infant).

You can vote for your favorite here or tweet your choice to @OisintheDeer.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.