London: A farmer's field near an ancient Roman villa excavated in Buckinghamshire has yielded a long-buried secret - it was a graveyard for prostitutes' babies slaughtered by the Romans.
The site was an ancient brothel and the 97 baby skeletons found there could have been the unwanted babies of prostitutes, say experts.
The Yewden villa at Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, 80 km from London, was excavated 100 years ago and identified as a high status Roman villa, according to records by Alfred Heneage Cocks, an archaeologist who reported his findings in 1921. It was, however, covered by a wheat field years later.
Romans allegedly considered infanticide as less shocking than it is today, and as there was no effective contraception method available in those days, the Romans may have simply murdered the children as soon as they were born, a newspaper reported.
Measurements of the bones have shown that all the babies died at around 40 weeks' gestation, very soon after birth. If they had died from natural causes, they would have been of different ages, they said.
"The only explanation you keep coming back to is that it's got to be a brothel. Today, in the rolling countryside, there is nothing to suggest it was the scene of mass killings," Jill Eyers, an archaeologist, was quoted as saying.
Alfred Heneage Cocks gave precise locations for the infant bodies, which were hidden under walls or buried under courtyards. His original report was rediscovered recently, along with 300 boxes of photographs, artefacts, pottery and bones, at the Buckinghamshire County Museum.
"There is no other site that would yield anything like the 97 infant burials," said Simon Mays, a skeletal biologist at English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology.
A similar find was made in Ashkelon, Israel, in 1988, where skeletons of 100 Roman-era babies were discovered in a sewer beneath a bath house.
First Published: Monday, June 28, 2010, 09:34