child burial
© Denis Gliksman/InrapAn overhead view of the burial site in what is now Clermont-Ferrand.
French archaeologists have hailed the "exceptional" discovery of the 2,000-year-old remains of a child buried with animal offerings and what appears to have been a pet dog.

The child, believed to have been around a year old, was interred at the beginning of the first century, during Roman rule, in a wooden coffin 80cm long made with nails and marked with a decorative iron tag.

The coffin was placed in a 2 metre by 1 metre grave and surrounded by around 20 objects including a number of miniature terracotta vases and glass pots thought to have contained oils and medicines, half a pig, three hams and other cuts of pork, and two headless chickens.

The burial tomb was uncovered during a dig at a site at Clermont-Ferrand airport, in central France, to enable a development project to go ahead.

Archaeologists said they also found an ornamental copper pin used to attach a shroud, and a 30cm iron ring attached to a bent metal rod, believed to be a toy. The end of the rod had been slipped between the legs of a puppy placed at the feet of the deceased outside the coffin. The young animal was wearing a collar with bronze decorations and fitted with a small bell.
child burial
© Denis Gliksman/InrapArchaeologists at the grave.
Those at the dig said they were particularly moved to find a milk tooth belonging to an older child, who may have been a sibling of the infant, placed on a fragment of broken shell.

Adults were usually cremated in Roman Gaul, which included what is now modern France, Belgium and parts of neighbouring countries, but children were often buried at the family property, suggesting a sizeable villa existed nearby.

"The items that accompany this deceased are absolutely exceptional, both in terms of quantity and quality," said the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP). "Such a profusion of crockery and butchered items, as well as the personal effects that followed the child to his grave, underline the privileged rank to which his family belonged. A dog's association with a young child is well documented in a funeral context, but here it is the collar and bell that are unusual."

It is reported to be the oldest and most important find of a child's burial tomb in France. An older grave, believed to date from the Roman conquest of Gaul several decades earlier, contained a number of weapons, suggesting its occupant was a soldier.
child burial
© Denis Gliksman/InrapA wider view of the excavation site.
Laurence Lautier, who is in charge of the Clermont-Ferrand dig, said the find was "unusual because of the profusion of vases and offerings. In this type of tomb we often find one or two pots placed at the foot. Here there are around 20 as well as many food offerings."

She told AFP that the number of objects in the tomb suggested "a certain social status ... a family that was clearly very rich" and that the vases and pots would have contained "the child's part of the food and drink from the funeral banquet".

The dig over 3.5 hectares (7.4 acres) has thrown up a variety of objects from the iron age to antiquity and the middle ages, as well as more modern artefacts.

Tests are being carried out on the receptacles found in the grave to establish what they held. The dig is expected to continue until February.