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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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Archaeologists unearth City’s earliest known resident

(11 February 2020)

One of the bone fragments found

Our archaeologists have discovered human remains they believe to be Durham’s earliest known resident.

Why were they digging and what did they find?

A team from our Archaeological Services were digging off Claypath, on a site developed and now operated by student accommodation provider Student Castle.

They found parts of human skull, arm and leg bones. These have now been dated to 90BC-60AD, making their owner Durham’s earliest recorded human resident.

What do the discoveries tell us?

The fragments are so badly damaged that we cannot be sure whether the person was male or female. But we do know they were an adult and were cremated.

Dr David Mason, Principal Archaeologist at Durham County Council, said the discoveries were very significant and were further evidence that people lived in the area during the Iron Age (800BC-43AD) and Romano-British (43-410AD) periods.

More about Claypath’s history

Claypath was previously one of three main streets leading into Durham’s medieval Market Place, along with Fleshewergate and Silver Street.

Initial research suggested the site had been occupied for 800 years, but the bone fragments show that people had been living in the area for much longer.

As well as evidence of the Iron Age cremation, our archaeologists found items from medieval rubbish pits and 18th Century street-front buildings.

Find out more

The remains are too small and vulnerable to be displayed publicly. However, the discovery is explored, along with other finds from the same excavation, in a new exhibition at our Museum of Archaeology, at Palace Green Library. ‘2000 years of life at 18-29 Claypath’ is open until Monday 1 June.

Natalie Swann, from our Archaeological Services, will give a public talk about the excavation in the Learning Centre, Palace Green Library on Saturday 22 February at 11am. This talk is free of charge. Booking is not required but seating will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.