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Three Roman tombs discovered in Ossónoba, Portugal, where the Visigoths ruled

Three tombs dating to the 5th or 6th century AD have been unearthed in the ancient Roman city of Ossónoba in Faro, southern Portugal.

Phoenicians settled Ossónoba in the 4th century BC. The city fell under Roman and Visigoth rule from the 2nd century BC to the 8th century AD and was conquered by the Muslims in 713 AD.

A team of archaeologists from ERA Arqueologi has discovered the remains of a man, woman and child from the ancient Roman period during excavations in a 5,000 square meter area of a housing project.

According to archaeologist Francisco Correa, the excavations, carried out before a construction project, revealed the grave of a man whose skeleton was complete and would have been between 39 and 45 years old, as well as a young woman under 25 and a baby no more than six months old.

Francisco Correia, the project’s head archaeologist, said in a statement that the discoveries were made in an old truck repair workshop and are believed to date from the 5th or 6th century.

The tombs appear to have been looted in the past to steal “small bracelets, necklaces, and rings,” according to anthropologist Cláudia Maio. The tombs indicate that the people may have had “some economic status” as they were not simply placed in open graves but instead buried in carefully built graves.

Photo: ERA Arqueologia

The proximity of the three people’s graves seems to indicate that they were family members, though the team cannot be certain of that. “But we cannot say anything for sure,” the anthropologist said.

To learn more, the researchers hope to be able to provide more precise answers through DNA tests and isotopic analysis techniques used to determine population movements and dietary habits from chemical traces in ancient human remains.

This latest archaeological discovery did not come as a surprise to archaeologists, who had already led similar works which resulted in the discovery of a Roman game artifact believed to date back to the first century AD in 2020.

“We know that we are in an area with archaeological potential where there is a 17th-century convent (of Santo António dos Capuchos) to the west, and to the east lies the area where the mosaic of the Ocean God (Deus Oceano), now a national treasure, was found,” he said.

What did come as a surprise to archaeologists was the location of the tombs.

“Based on previous studies, this would have been an area that was possibly residential or more linked to industrial activities. There are many traces of salterns. Largo da Madalena would have been the entrance to the urban area of the city of Ossónoba. The identified graves are in the Figuras area, near Teatro Lethes, close to the Ermida de São Sebastião and the Pavilion of Escola D. Afonso III. This area is almost within the urban fabric,” the archaeologist explained, adding that this illustrates both the “growth and decline of Ossónoba.”

Sigillata showing the goddess Victoria – Photo: Bruno Filipe Pires/Open Media Group

The graves of the man and the woman “were sealed with limestone slabs,” believed to be reused parts from “some of the most emblematic buildings that would have been here in the area,” he believes.

According to the project manager of ERA Arqueologia, who was co-responsible for the work, in addition to the graves, hundreds of small pieces were also discovered which suggest that there may also have been a mosaic there.

The researchers also recovered Roman artifacts in the area, including ceramics, bone dice, nails, pins, a spoon, possible evidence of a dye factory, and coins minted during the reign of Constantine the Great, between A.D. 306 and 337.

Cover Photo: Roman mosaic of the god Oceanus, part of the ancient city of Ossónoba, the modern town of Faro, in Portugal.

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