Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Experts to return to Roman fort site in west Cumbria

The everyday life of Romans in west Cumbria is coming under the spotlight again from this week.

Roman excavation photo
Excavations at the Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport

Archaeologists will return to the site of a fort on the west coast as part of a project to look at ordinary life there.

A team of volunteers will join archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology to examine the Maryport site, part of an ongoing dig there.

Believed to be founded before 120 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, historians say the stone fort was an integral part of coastal defences extending down the Cumbrian coast from Hadrian’s Wall.

The civilian settlement, north-east of the fort, is believed to be the largest currently known along the Hadrian’s Wall frontier.

The Roman Settlement Project, which is being carried out in two eight-week field sessions on behalf of Hadrian’s Wall Trust, Senhouse Museum Trust and philanthropist Christian Levett, aims to dig deeper into initial research done in the 1800s and more recently by a team of archaeologists from Newcastle University.

Dr Nigel Mills, world heritage advisor for the trust, said the work was very important as civilian settlements were poorly understood.

“The emphasis of research in the past has been on the Roman military,” he said. “Understanding civilian life gives us a more rounded picture of the Roman world and of life in the frontier areas.”

In 1870, 17 altars were found buried in the village which were all dedicated by the fort’s garrison commanders to the Roman god Jupiter. Believed to be the biggest single find of Roman inscriptions ever made in Britain, the altars provide evidence that three regiments from as far away as Spain and Germany were stationed at the fort.

A decade later, in the 1880s, archaeologist Joseph Robinson unearthed the remains of a rectangular building, an adjacent circular structure and altar fragments. It was later discovered to be the remains of a Roman temple from the second century, around 8m high when it stood.

Site director John Zant said: “Very few temples have been found in settlements of this type so we don’t know a lot about them. We think it was probably built specifically for the garrison but it is likely that very soon afterwards it would have been used by the non-military community.”

Oxford Archaeology chose four plots for excavation last year and found evidence of a stone building with three rooms. Mr Zant said they thought it would have been occupied for between 200 and 300 years.

“We are still unsure what the building would have been used for, but we believe it probably had a multifunctional purpose and one possibility is that the front room was used as a shop,” he added.

They are now going back to the site next month for another eight-week dig.


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