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Bone inlaid box

Roman, 4th or early 5th century AD.

Found during excavations by the Archaeological Section of the Winchester Museum Service at St. Martin's Close, Winnall, Winchester, 1984-5.

All that remained of the object, when it was discovered in the grave of a young woman, was a bone inlay decorated with rings and dots, as the wooden core had decayed over the centuries. Nevertheless, it has been possible to reconstruct the casket using photographs of the pieces next to the head of the deceased.

The bone veneer was attached to the box with small bone pegs. They also retained traces of decoration, indicating that the box was decorated after it was made. All six facets were veneered, but the lid and base had open areas like a double-sided frame. They were probably open originally, even before the wood had decayed, because in this case the contents of the box - a heavily decorated deer comb - would have been clearly visible.

People buried in this part of Winchester's eastern Roman cemetery rarely received grave goods, but those that were found tended to be of high quality, indicating the high status of the population group. The way people were buried compares well in some respects to the Christian cemeteries of the late Roman period in the Mediterranean and Near East.