Washington, August 15 : Archaeologists have uncovered two 1,800-year-old Roman stone coffins at a dig on the site of a former office building in Newcastle, UK.
These coffins are thought to have been used to bury members of a rich and powerful family from the nearby walled fort of Pons Aelius, whose West Gate would have been sited just yards away.
While the lid of one sarcophagus will be lifted soon by Durham University experts to discover what it holds inside, the other sarcophagus has already been opened and removed from the site for safekeeping.
It was found to contain the poorly-preserved skeleton of a child, aged around six years old, which was submerged in water and sludge.
The head of the child appeared to have been removed and placed elsewhere in the coffin, which was an unusual but not unknown practice in Roman times.
It is possible the first burial included the remains of an older person in the same coffin.
The sarcophagi, about 70cm wide and 180cm long, have walls around 10cm thick and weigh up to half a tonne each.
They are both carved out of a single piece of sandstone. Each lid was fixed in place with iron pegs sealed with molten lead.
According to archaeologist Richard Annis, from Durham University, "They would certainly have had to belong to a wealthy family of a high status in the community, perhaps at fort commander level or at senior level in the Roman army."
"Very few people could have afforded to bury their child in such a grand fashion," he added.
Other discoveries at the site, on Forth Street, include cremation urns, providing evidence of other Roman burials on site; and, a cobbled Roman road which experts believe may have been part of the old main road from the South of England to the North.
Also discovered were a Roman well and a Medieval well; the remains of the foundations of Roman shops and workers' homes, along with the remains of flint tools from Stone Age hunter-gatherers.