Graves of Roman Family Held Jewelry, Coins and ‘Exquisite’ Vials for Storing Mourners’ Tears

Archaeologists in Bulgaria unearthed the remains of three individuals interred with rare treasures dating to the third century

The trove of goods was discovered alongside the graves of three individuals who died 1,700 years ago. Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

Researchers have unearthed the graves of a Roman-era woman, man and child in Bulgaria. For 1,700 years, the site has held historic treasures, ritualistic artifacts and a “sad family story.”

The burials were found late last year by a farmer plowing his field near the Bulgarian village of Nova Varbovka. When experts from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History arrived to examine the discovery, they found two distinct graves, according to a translated statement from the museum.

The larger of the two, which was about ten feet long, contained the remains of a man in his 50s and a woman in her late 40s, reports Live Science’s Kristina Killgrove. They were buried with jewelry, coins, ceramic and glass vessels and other artifacts that date to the early third century.

The smaller grave held the remains of a 1- to 2-year-old child. Researchers think this grave is slightly older, suggesting the child died before their parents.

This “rare and very valuable” medallion depicts the Roman emperor Caracalla. Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The burials are located in a region once known as the Roman province of Moesia. The graves’ interior walls are made of brick and mortar, and they were covered with a large limestone slab, which appears to be from a quarry near the ancient town of Nicopolis ad Istrum. As Kalin Chakarov, an archaeologist at the museum, tells Live Science, “This peculiarity and other indications make me think that the deceased are somehow related to the territory of Nicopolis ad Istrum,” and they likely had a villa in the area. The team thinks the deceased may have been wealthy landowners.

The graves’ contents also suggest a certain status. Chief among the goods found interred with the bodies is a rare bronze medallion depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, also known as Caracalla, who ruled between 198 and 217 C.E., as Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou reports. The valuable artifact pictures Caracalla’s visit to Pergamon in present-day Turkey, where he traveled near the end of his life to seek Asclepius, the god of medicine.

Other objects found at the site include a lamp, a leather shoe, six coins dating to between 200 and 225 C.E., a gilded pendant, a silver-plated brooch and “exquisite gold ladies’ earrings,” per the statement.

Along with these riches, the site also revealed evidence of funerary rituals: Researchers found a Roman jar called an amphora that probably held wine to be consumed by funeral attendees. Additionally, the child’s grave contained two glass “lacrimaria,” which are “exquisite vessels in which mourners initially collected their tears, and were later used for fragrant oils,” as the museum writes.

Researchers have not yet conducted a DNA analysis of the human remains, which could reveal more about the individuals’ ages and origins. In the meantime, Chakarov plans to continue studying the surrounding area in an attempt to find out more about the three Romans.

“I think that it is a sad family story from the first half of the third century,” Chakarov tells Live Science. “A dead infant, buried by their parents, who had their last resting place on the same spot where they buried their child.”

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