Black Voices In Conversation - Discovery of 'Ivory Bangle Lady' challenges assumptions about diversity in ancient York 

This month on Calendar we've been marking Black History Month by exploring some of the untold stories of black people across our region.   

This month we are celebrating the life of an important woman who lived and died in York more than 1,600 years ago.  

Her discovery has challenged assumptions about the diversity of the ancient Roman city.

The woman, known only as the 'Ivory Bangle Lady' because of the jewellery she was buried with, is thought to be the earliest proven black woman in the British Isles.  

Her skeleton was found in 1901 near to Sycamore Terrace in York, a street lying mid-way between Bootham and the River Ouse.

The remains, dated to the second half of the fourth century, were found with jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug and a glass mirror.

The burial site proves she was a very wealthy woman, who lived an extremely luxurious lifestyle.

Her remains were discovered more than 100 years ago Credit: ITV Calendar

The biggest discovery came over century later by the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology.

Analysis of her facial features, the chemical signature of the food and drink she consumed, and evidence from the burial site suggests she might have been of North African descent.

Lucy Creighton, Curator of Archaeology at York Museums Trust said: ''They looked at the shape of her skull and her bones and through that type of analysis, they were able to determine she was of mixed heritage of mixed race and ancestry, and that means her parents and grandparents were of different races.''

She was named after the ivory bracelets found in her coffin Credit: ITV Calendar

Dr Onyeka Nubia, who's a University history lecturer, says the discovery proves Britain has been diverse for thousands of years. 

Often, there is a wrong assumption that all Africans who lived during those times were either slaves or second-class citizens.

Instead, like most urban areas of the Roman Empire, York (known as Eboracum) was a cultural melting pot.

Archeologists think the Ivory Bangle Lady was one of many rich migrants with African heritage who made the city their home.  

Dr Nubia explained: ''Sometimes when we think about diversity we think of it coming about as a modern thing, as a feature of modern society, since the 60s, or at least since 1948 and the Windrush.

"What the discovery of the Ivory Bangle Lady proves, is that the history of Britain is far more interesting and far more multilayered (than we previously thought).''

Historians across Yorkshire want to re-educate the public about diversity, and the story of this young, rich black woman who lived in ancient York will be big part of that.