THE chance to see York's Roman heritage being uncovered is being offered this weekend.

Local people are being invited to view the latest archaeological finds at 89 The Mount, during an open day, on Saturday.

Archaeologists are currently working there ahead of a new housing development by Shepherd Homes. The site lies at the heart of one of York's most important Roman cemeteries.

Discoveries already made include a body whose head had been removed before burial - similar to another macabre find during a separate dig at nearby Driffield Terrace.

Previous work on the site suggested that agricultural activity, in the centuries after the cemetery fell into disuse, had probably destroyed the burials.

But the team from On Site Archaeology have identified the remains of three burials.

Mike Griffiths, consultant archaeologist to Shepherd Homes, said: "We have been lucky. When you look at the areas furthest from The Mount we are clearly in open fields of mediaeval date. Here the destruction by the plough has been total.

"You then cross into an area which formed the gardens or yards behind medieval buildings fronting on to The Mount. Here the digging was probably restricted to a spade's depth, so some of the burials have survived."

The archaeologists are also adding to the knowledge of funerary rites in Roman York - which were clearly complicated and with a touch of mystery.

There is evidence of cremation pit on the site, which will allow the archaeologists to gain a better insight into the technology and processes of cremation, the dominant burial rite in the early Roman period.

There is also a fragment of a face pot, dated to about 150 AD, which probably once contained cremated bone remains.

But most mysterious is a headless corpse. It is clear that the body was put into the ground without its head attached. This was carefully placed face down next to the left leg.

Examination of the well-preserved remains should show how the head was removed, carefully or violently. If done carefully, it might suggest a ritual carried out after death. The head was thought to be the seat of the spirit in pre-Roman Britain so it may be a local native tradition. If it was removed violently it may indicate something far more grim.

Mr Griffiths said: "The recent find of a series of these headless bodies at Driffield Terrace has reawakened archaeological interest in this bizarre form of Roman burial and the current find will help to put flesh back on the bones - as it were.

"Combined with the recent find of the gypsum burial at Mill Mount, another Shepherd Homes site, archaeologists are hopeful that they will soon look upon the faces of some of York's earliest citizens; the good, the bad and, hopefully, the beautiful."

The open day will take place between 10am and 4pm.

Updated: 10:38 Thursday, April 14, 2005