Treasure-hunters with metal detectors have been seen loitering near to the site of a newly-discovered Roman bath-house in Carlisle.

But archaeology experts who were hired to excavate an area of Carlisle Cricket Club’s Edenside ground say they have now removed all of the accessible artefacts from the site and back-filled it with soil.

Meanwhile, there is mounting excitement about the tourism opportunity the discovery has created, with high hopes that a permanent exhibition could be built around the military bath-house, which is being hailed as significant.

Archaeologists uncovered the previously hidden Roman gem during a routine survey of an area beneath the club’s tennis courts.

Among the numerous artefacts discovered were dozens of coins, iron arrow heads, pottery, bone hair pins, and painted tiles.

The bath-house also included the remnants of a hypocaust – the Roman equivalent of under-floor heating. Historians believe the facility was used by the prestigious Ala Petriana, a crack Roman cavalry regiment based at Stanwix in north Carlisle. Feared and respected in equal measure, they were the chief guardians of the Roman Empire’s northern frontier along Hadrian’s Wall.

One expert described the bath-house finds as “Premier League archaeology”.

Carlisle Cricket Club chairman Mike Rayson said he would have liked to see the site left open to public view for longer but it has now been filled in to protect it from opportunists hoping to bag a relic.

He warned would-be treasure-hunters to stay away.

Among the security measures currently in place is a large metal fence, provided free by Story Construction.

Mr Rayson, who thanked the firm for its help, said: “I had to approach a man who had forced his way through the fence and there have been a couple of people down there with metal detectors.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t have kept it open for longer. But it has had to be backfilled to protect the site.

“Everybody is being very positive about this find and there are now various discussions underway to determine where we go from here. It’s already been designated a site of national significance.”

Colin Glover, leader of Carlisle City Council, confirmed that the authority allocated £6,000 as an emergency grant to the dig when it became clear that the archaeologists had found something of huge historic value.

“They told us that they were uncovering something really exciting, and that has proved to be the case,” said Mr Glover. “It was a real investment.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for the city. The next stage is to get the full archaeology report, and that will tell us the scale of what has been found and then we need to meet with the cricket club who will consult their members.

“I know that Mike Rayson is very positive and excited about this. He wants to work closely with the City Council but he needs to talk with his fellow committee members. We want to talk to potential funders.

“That will include the Heritage Lottery Fund, possibly so that we can do a more extensive dig. We also want to hear from anybody who would like to be involved.

“What we can say is that there is real potential here to create something permanent, which would provide an attraction that will tell the Roman story of Carlisle in the way that we have always wanted to.

“Tullie House does a great job but we’ve always longed for a site where people can go and see Roman archaeology. This site is particularly exciting because it’s where the Roman Cavalry Unit would meet.

“They went to the bath-house to bathe, gamble, plot and scheme. Some of the campaigns they carried out in the north of England may have been planned there.”

Frank Giecco, from the Wardell-Armstrong archaeology contractor which carried out the dig, said experts were now reviewing the finds.

He said: “There is a lovely assemblage of late Roman coins, some second century material, including pottery, painted plaster, hypocaust tiles, and window glass. The star of the show is the inscription stone.”

A sandstone block, its beautifully preserved inscription pays fulsome tribute to Julia Domna, mother of the Roman Emperor Caracalla.

“It may be that she visited Carlisle,” said Frank. “We know that her husband [Lucius Septimus Severus] was in York when he visited the North of England. They may have made a royal visit to Carlisle.”

The archaeological dig was commissioned by the cricket club because officials there want to build a new pavilion. In Roman times, Carlisle was known as Luguvalium. The Romans first erected a fort in the area in AD72.

Chief reporter