Maryport settlement dig reveals roman buildings and road

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An eight week dig at the Roman settlement site at Maryport has revealed the remains of six buildings, including at least one shop, and a Roman road.

The dig has been commissioned by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust and funded by philanthropist Christian Levett.  Oxford Archaeology North, from Lancaster, have been carrying out the dig assisted by a team of volunteer and trainee excavators.

Stephen Rowland, project manager for Oxford Archaeology North said: “Previous detailed geophysical surveys of the site have shown lines of structures likely to be buildings either side of the main street running from the north east gate of the fort, so we had a good idea where to start digging and we’ve been able to confirm the survey results.

“The building we’ve spent most time looking at this year might have been a shop at some point during its use. It is stone built and 5 metres wide by 20 metres long with several rooms, some with flagged floors.

“The reason we think it may have been a shop is the fact there isn’t a stone wall at the end facing the road. Instead, there could have been a booth-like timber frontage, or perhaps double doors that have long since rotted away.  This kind of construction has been found at other sites.

“At Maryport we have possible evidence of a stairwell too, perhaps suggesting that people would have worked on the ground floor and lived upstairs. We haven’t yet been able to determine what was sold here, but we have found a large in situ sharpening stone, and lots of smaller whet stones for honing blades and tools.”

Other small finds from inside the building include glass beads, remains of pots for processing food, fragments of amphorae that could have contained oil or wine, glass vessels and a spindle whorl.

The land to the rear of the buildings, equivalent to a modern backyard, is surrounded by a ditch. It contains several pits, perhaps used for outdoor toilets or for dumping rubbish, and at least three square wells or cisterns for holding water.

The civilian settlement is the largest currently known along the Hadrian’s Wall frontier, and is next to the Roman fort in Maryport.

Nigel Mills, director of world heritage and access for the Hadrian’s Wall Trust said: “The part of the site we’ve been examining appears to date to around the second and third centuries AD.

“It looks like people abandoned this area around AD250, which seems to have happened at other sites along the frontier too.

“At Maryport, we know from earlier excavations on the fort that it was occupied through the third and fourth centuries, while the recent excavations by the Newcastle University team for the Temples Project have revealed evidence of a late fourth century building on top of the hill.

“One explanation could be that as time went on the garrison became smaller and some parts of the settlement moved into the fort itself. The truth is nobody knows yet, archaeological excavation often raises new questions at the same time as providing some answers.

“There’s much more to do, but we’ve got off to a great start this season. We’d like to thank both the volunteer diggers and the Senhouse Roman Museum volunteer guides without whom we couldn’t have achieved so much in such a short time.”

The dig is the first phase of the £200,000 two year Settlement Project.  The cost includes the excavation itself, follow-up research, analysis of findings and their publication.

Christian Levett, who is funding the project said: “I’ve been interested in the Roman period since I was a child and have collected Roman coins and artefacts for many years.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to be part of a team that is adding even more academic knowledge to Romano British history and particularly to life on the Roman frontier.”

The Maryport Settlement dig follows the Roman Temples excavation earlier this year which was commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust with in-kind support from Newcastle University.

All the excavations are on land owned by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust at Camp Farm, the site of the proposed Roman Maryport heritage and visitor attraction, near to the Senhouse Roman Museum and part of the world heritage site.

The excavations are an important step towards establishing a long-term programme of archaeological research at Maryport, which is a key element in the development of Roman Maryport being taken forward in partnership by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust and the Senhouse Museum Trust.

Rachel Newman of the Senhouse Museum Trust said: “This has been a very exciting year with two complementary projects on different parts of the site. Over the next few months we’re looking forward to hearing more from both teams as they analyse the information they’ve gained from the digs.

“After recording and conservation the finds will return to the Senhouse Roman Museum to be displayed alongside the world famous Roman altar stones dedicated by the commanders of the fort.

“The excavation teams will be both back next year too, and there will be more opportunities for volunteers to get involved.”

Header Image : Nigel Mills, Hadrian’s Wall Trust archaeologists Jeremy Bradley and Stephen Rowland, Oxford Archaeology North Rachel Newman, Senhouse Museum Trust

Contributing Source : Hadrian’s Wall Trust

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