Ancient Egyptian mummies were buried in the region near Barnsley almost 2,000 years ago - a legacy of the Romans, South Yorkshire’s famed Egyptologist Joann Fletcher has revealed.
The Barnsley born BBC TV presenter, who describes the find as “amazing”, is curating a special exhibition called The Romans Are Coming, now open at the new Experience Barnsley museum, at the Town Hall.
VIDEO: Press the play buttom to watch digitasl editor Graham Walker’s special report, including exhibition highlights.
The exhibitiion includes Roman pottery, jewellery, clothing and coins but also a 300-400 AD gypsum mummy cast, which covered the embalmed, linen-wrapped body of a child.
Examples have been discovered in Pollington, a few miles north of Barnsley and Doncaster.
And it proves that embalming and mummifying customs took place in Roman settlements in the region, says Joann, a Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York.
Egyptians, who became part of the globe-trotting Roman Empire, took their customs and burial traditions with them, many of them ending up in Britain when the Romans invaded in 43 AD.
Bronze figurines of Egyptian gods Isis, Serapis and Apis have also been discovered.
Joann, aged 47, said she was also thrilled to get her hands on a 31 BC Roman coin, found in Darfield, which features Mark Antony, whose lover was Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.
Many Barnsley area artefacts were being stored in Doncaster, Sheffield and other museums but she has brought it together for the exhibition which for the first time publicly highlights the Roman activity in the town and the Egypt connection.
She admits the Holy Grail for her would be to find an Egyptian mummy buried in Barnsley.
“There is evidence around Thurnscoe of burial pits and more work needs to be done. Come back in 10-years,” she told The Star.
“We’ve only just started looking to be honest, because until very recently who knew these existed?
“There’s certainly evidence that Romans in our part of the world were embalming, mummifying and wrapping in linen their dead, according to Egyptian customs.
“Analysis on some bones shows these individuals were born and raised in North Africa.
“Mummies in Yorkshire. How good does it get?”
Due to Yorkshire’s damp climate, linen wrapped bodies were encased in a layer of gypsum plaster. They have been found in places like York, Castleford and Pollington.
Joann, who presented a two-part BBC TV documentary Ancient Egypt: Life & Death In The Valley Of The Kings, also won a Royal Television Society Award for her part in the Channel 4 documentary Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret.
She made headlines as part of an expedition which made the claim of finding the mummy of Queen Nefertiti.
Now back in Barnsley said: “Hordes of Roman coins were discovered in Darfield, we’ve evidence for Roman cavalry in Thurnscoe, the embryonic coal and glass industries at Shafton, a Roman bath house at South Elmsall and even a Roman shrine to the war god Mars on Staincross Common.”
She is making a new series, writing a book and teaching world mummification next month at the University of York and lecturing on the connections of Roman and Egypt.
Barnsley Mayor Coun Ken Richardson, who tried on a Roman helmet, said: “This is a fantastic exhibition and I hope people will come to see if from far and wide.”
* The Romans Are Coming is at Experience Barnsley, at Barnsley Town Hall, until Sunday, January 5, 2014. Family activities, with themed events most Saturdays, include Monster Mummies - building a scary mummy - on Friday, November 1 and Barnsley, Egypt and Beyond, with Joan Fletcher, on Saturday, October 19. Full details at www.experience-barnsley.com