Iron coffin nail
Roman, 4th or early 5th century AD
Found during excavations by Winchester Museums Service Archaeology Section at St Martin's Close, Winnall, Winchester in 1984-5
Several burials in wooden coffins constructed using these massive, triangular-headed nails were found in this part of Winchester's eastern Roman cemetery. Where iron and wood had touched, corrosion preserved the structure of the wood, and two coffins were identified as made of ash and one of oak. Curiously, the position of the corrosion-replaced wood showed that the heads of the nails stuck out of the boards of the coffins, rather than being flush with them.
People buried at St Martin's Close were rarely given grave goods, but those that have been found are generally of high quality, suggesting a high status group within the population. Perhaps this is also the explanation for the ostentatious coffin nails. The way the burials were made also compares well in some respects with late Roman Christian cemeteries in Mediterranean areas and the Middle East. However, an alternative explanation for the use of the strange nails- implying paganism- is that they represented an attempt by magic to keep the dead in their graves and stop them from wandering.