The discovery of an ancient African skeleton has been hailed as proof of Roman-era Britain’s ethnic diversity.

The ‘Beachy Head lady’ was discovered near the famous beauty spot in 1953.

Archaeologists from Oxford University have now established she was an African woman from around AD245 – the middle of the Roman era.

The origin, health, diet and social status of human remains were analysed by Heritage Lottery- funded project Eastbourne Ancestors.


The Beachy Head lady and other discoveries will be exhibited using 3D cranio-facial forensic reconstructions allowing people to gaze into the eyes of their ancestors. The exhibition will put flesh on the bones of people from Eastbourne’s distant past and discover their life story and is the first time such an extensive analysis has taken place in the UK.

Heritage officer Jo Seaman said: “This is a fantastic discovery for the south coast. We know this lady was around 30 years old, grew up in the vicinity of what is now East Sussex, ate a good diet of fish and vegetables, her bones were without disease and her teeth were in good condition.

“Without the context of seeing the burial site or grave goods, we don’t yet know why she was here, or her social status.

However, based on what we know of the Roman era and a similar discovery in York, it’s possible she was the wife of a local official or mistress of the extensive Roman villa which is known to be close to Eastbourne Pier, or she may have been a merchant, plying the trade routes around the Mediterranean up to this remote European outpost.

“Another theory is the rather more upsetting possibility that this ladymay have been a slave, we just don’t know at this stage.”

Eastbourne Ancestors has analysed about 300 Bronze Age to Middle Saxon skeletons giving an ‘osteo-biography’ or story for each one.

They are all from targeted archaeological digs or have been rescued from construction sites across Eastbourne and its downland and have been handed to the Heritage Service for safe keeping.

The exhibition opens in mid- December at The Pavilion on Eastbourne seafront.