Druid of Colchester

Surgical Tools

The grave of the "Druid of Colchester" was discovered by archaeologists in 1996. The find, at the village of Stanway, Essex, near Colchester, is believed to be that of an Iron Age druid dated c. 40-60 AD. It is among a number of graves of eminent people found, believed to be buried around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD. The area was then associated with the Catuvellauni tribe.[1]

In the wooden chambered burial site, archaeologists uncovered cremated human remains, and a board game - the first time that such a game has been found virtually intact.[2] Other items uncovered included a cloak decorated with brooches, a jet bead believed to have magical properties, medical equipment, a tea strainer still containing some kind of herbal brew, and some mysterious metal poles believed to be used for divining.

This Medical kit consisted of 13 instruments including scalpels, sharp and blunt retractors, needles, a probe and surgical saw,[3] hooks and forceps.

A cup was also found with traces of Mugwort, some people suggest that herbs, such as Mugwort, were smoked to stimulate psychic powers. The teas strainer also contained herbs commonly associated with herbal remedies in ancient times. Philip Crummy, director of the trust, remained cautious, adding that there may be other explanations. "In the report we draw the possibility that this man or woman was a druid," he said. "The so-called druid could have been a doctor. The tea strainer contains artemisia pollen, which is commonly associated with herbal remedies. Healing is an attribute given to druids. We don't know what the metal rods are for, but we think they could have been used for divining. The question is whether all that stacks up to him being a druid. It could be – it was certainly somebody special."

The medical kit was "fairly Romanized" and the individual may have acted "like a Roman surgeon/doctor would have done." "Divination was widely practiced in the Roman world too," he added. Because of the site’s age and location, archaeologist Mike Pitts believes the person was indeed a Celtic Druid and could have been closely related to Cunobelinus, a chief or king of the Catuvellauni tribe." [1]

The Stanway Game

The grave contained a board game, with the glass counters laid out as if in play. Surviving metal corners and hinges from the 'game' board allowed a reconstruction to be created, it is believed to be 55cm by 40 (21" x 15") [2] and rectangle with play over a board of 8x12 squares.[4] Dr Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of the Ancient Mesopotamia collection in the Middle East department of the British Museum, speculates that, in the absence of dice, the game is one of strategy.[1]

The white and blue glass counters, 13 for each player, were ranged against each other, similar to a Chess opening. All pieces were of equal size except for a single smaller white bead, the only piece positioned close to the board centre.

Some people believe this board may also have been used along with the metal rods for divining purposes.

A detailed analysis of the game is provided by Ulrich Schädler in "The Doctor's Game: New Light on the History of Ancient Board Games" which is his contribution to Crummy, et al (2007) Stanway: An Elite Burial Site at Camulodunum'. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

External links


  1. 1 2 3 Games Britannia - 1. Dicing with Destiny, BBC Four, 1:05am Tuesday 8 December 2009
  2. 1 2 The Times; 6 September 1996; Roman board game found at burial site
  3. The Independent; 22 November 1997; Style & design: Items and Icons treasures
  4. "Chess Variants: Courier Game".
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