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Roman Settlement Project Update

The first season of the Roman Settlement project excavtion was a gerat success, and preparations for the 2014 season are under way. Here's an outline of what we found in 2013 after we expanded the test pit with evidence for the most appropriate archaeological remains within the wider investigation area. The findings indicate that we can expect to do plenty more exciting work during this season's dig between April and May 2014.

Using the geophysics results as a guide, the test pit was expanded to encompass the full width of the Roman plot, from the street frontage to the apparent end of the building. A further 7m-wide strip was extended north-westward to the end of the plot, some 80m from the road. This revealed the complete footprint of a 20m-long by 5m-wide stone strip building lying end on to the well-preserved street made of beach cobbles. In addition, there were also neighbouring stone structures, one barely a foot to the north-east, and another, separated by a metalled alley, to the south-west.

Detailed investigation concentrated on the central building, with its completely preserved footprint. The aim is to excavate this building fully over the course of two seasons, but it is already clear that there were multiple phases of construction, and that the building perhaps comprised three rooms, with a rather rougher extension, or perhaps a walled yard, to the rear. Moreover, it is apparent from areas of localised slumping that the structure overlies the remains of earlier, perhaps less intensive, activity. The main room at the street frontage had several layers of clay flooring, which displayed evidence that the room may, at times, have been subdivided internally, and, next to one of the walls, incorporated a complete pot. Elsewhere, there are well-preserved flagged floors, which appear to have been overlain by ones made of clay. A lack of evidence for a stone wall or foundation cut at the point where the front of the building adjoins the cobbled road contrasts with the sides and rear. It presumably indicates the presence of wide doors or perhaps a booth-like timber shop front onto the street, reminiscent of examples at other sites. Strip-buildings are found in most extramural settlements, and many were probably multi-functional, perhaps with a shop on the street and workshops and domestic quarters to the rear, and/or in an upper storey. Indeed, one of the rooms contained an area of stonework that could have been the remains of a stairwell, whilst frequent slate fragments, including at least one with a nail hole, are likely to derive from roofing materials. Quite a lot of whetstones, and a large, earthfast and possibly in-situ stone that had been used for honing, complete with sharpening marks and rust staining, may relate to the function of the building at some point during its century or more of use.

The narrow trench through the ‘backland’ of the plot has revealed frequently recut boundary ditches (both to the rear, and defining the north-eastern edge of the plot), pits, and three or four probable wells of cisterns. The GPR survey and probing suggested that the latter are over 2m deep, and coring has indicated that their lower fills are waterlogged, with the potential for good organic preservation. Although the site is not particularly rich artefactually, black-burnished ware, samian ware, and colour-coated vessels are all well represented, together with vessel glass and beads. Many of the finds recovered so far, including a small number of coins, suggest that occupation lasted from the second to the mid- to later third century AD. This matches wider trends, with many of the extramural settlements seemingly falling out of use, or perhaps contracting, some time before their associated forts are abandoned. Indeed, it may be that their occupants moved into the forts, perhaps reflecting the changing relationship between the garrison and the settlers, or possibly a deteriorating local political situation.

The excavations programmed for Spring 2014 will really get to grips with the building and backplot, as we seek to explore the date, function and complexity of the building and of other activity within the area, the organisation of the plot, the relationship between the fort and the settlement, and the ethnicity of the inhabitants.

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