Object in Focus-Ophelia

a plaster case of a female head is standing on a wooden plinth. she has brown hair and high cheek bones
The completed facial reconstruction of Ophelia © Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd

The Berkhamsted and District Archaeological Society started excavations at Cow Roast in 1972. Work continued for four years in an orchard near the Cow Roast Inn and for three years at the Marina. The site is that of a Romano-British settlement which grew up alongside the Roman Road running from St Albans, via Tring, to Cirencester, following part of the A4. In one of fourteen wells in the orchard field of the Cow Roast excavation a female skeleton was discovered. This came as quite a surprise for the archaeologists at the time. There was nothing in the grave to date her, but from the items that were found in the area the archaeologists could tell she may be from Roman times. She was removed from the site because she was in the line of the by pass and was threaten to be destroyed. Since her arrival at the Museum Store, she has been affectionately named Ophelia.

A archaeological dig in progress showing the skeletal remains of a roman women in a ground
Female Roman Skeleton discovered at Cow Roast ©Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd

So what can we learn?

  • Ophelia was uncovered just over two feet from the surface. During the Roman period her grave would have been a very shallow 18inches deep.
  • She has none of the usual burial goods that you typically find for ‘important’ people.
  • From looking at what finds were discovered at the same site we can tell that the settlement dates from around 20 BC.
  • By looking at the shape of her pelvis and skull we know she was female and from looking at her teeth aged between 25-30 years old.
  • There was evidence of vast accumulations of tartar around the teeth, which suggests that the food consumed by Ophelia was of a soft consistency and chewing was minimal.
  • The upper right first molar must have been removed years prior to death, as the space has almost been completely filled by a mesial-buccal drift of the 2nd and 3rd molars.

In May 2011 The Dacorum Heritage Trust was successful in obtaining funds to create a facial reconstruction of Ophelia.  Therefore we can now see what she would have looked like.


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