Home Science Roman industrial site gives new picture of life in Roman Britain

Roman industrial site gives new picture of life in Roman Britain

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A Roman industrial complex has been uncovered by archaeologists and it provides a detailed picture of what life was like in Rural Britain under Roman occupation. 

Archaeologists in the Borough of Corby, Northamptonshire, made the unique discovery during an excavation at the Priors Hall Park housing development.

Two tile kilns, a large lime kiln for the production of mortar and five pottery kilns were found alongside evidence of large-scale stone and clay quarrying.

The team behind the discovery say with further study it could shed fresh light on the town’s industrial history and what rural life was like in late Roman Britain.  

A Roman industrial complex has been uncovered by archaeologists and it provides a detailed picture of what life was like in Rural Britain under Roman occupation

A Roman industrial complex has been uncovered by archaeologists and it provides a detailed picture of what life was like in Rural Britain under Roman occupation

A tile fragment with a complete vitrified cat print was found. Archaeologists in the Borough of Corby, Northamptonshire, made the unique discovery during an excavation at the Priors Hall Park housing development

A tile fragment with a complete vitrified cat print was found. Archaeologists in the Borough of Corby, Northamptonshire, made the unique discovery during an excavation at the Priors Hall Park housing development

Oxford Archaeology East recently completed a six-month excavation of a densely populated Late Romano-British industrial landscape to uncover the ruins.

The excavation was set within a Roman villa estate at Priors Hall in the town and it gives a detailed picture of the people who worked and lived in the area.

The location of the site were uncovered in the final century of the Roman occupation, a time of economic and social turmoil within the empire. 

The kilns and other discoveries were linked by a metal surface across the site that would have been used to facilitate the movement of materials required to construct and operate a large Roman villa about 984 feet to the east.

Inscribed tile in-situ included the words ENII (F)ECIT Perhaps ()nenti or ()nenus FECIT - which may have been the name of the tile

Inscribed tile in-situ included the words ENII (F)ECIT Perhaps ()nenti or ()nenus FECIT – which may have been the name of the tile

Oxford Archaeology East recently completed a six-month excavation of a densely populated Late Romano-British industrial landscape

Oxford Archaeology East recently completed a six-month excavation of a densely populated Late Romano-British industrial landscape

They also discovered a host of coins and intriguing artefacts such as animal bone, pottery and metal items, including jewellery and tools.

The team say these items offer a rare insight into the lives of the estate workers as opposed to the villa owner, as other discoveries have shown.

A particular highlight is a coin of the rebel emperor Allectus, who reigned a small breakaway empire based in Britain in AD 293. 

The coin was pierced with a single hole so it may be worn as a fashion item suggesting its value was beyond just monetary.

A decorated complete buckle made of copper-alloy and depicting two flanking dolphins representing links with the gods of the sea, Neptune and Oceanus, found on the site, displays the fashion and taste of the time.

The organisation and finance required to build the villas – which were excavated on the site in the 1950s –  would have been considerable. 

The archaeology at Priors Hall shows evidence for numerous specialist tradespeople such as carpenters and builders, tile makers and mortar producers, perhaps being hired from nearby towns to make the pots, tiles, mortar and stone.

Nigel Wakefield, development director at Urban&Civic, which owns the site, said they’ve always known the site had a rich Roman history.

‘What we didn’t realise is quite how fascinating these new discoveries are, not only in terms of the buildings that were previously here but also in learning how they were constructed and understanding the materials and skills required to build them.

The team say these items offer a rare insight into the lives of the estate workers as opposed to the villa owner, as other discoveries have shown

The team say these items offer a rare insight into the lives of the estate workers as opposed to the villa owner, as other discoveries have shown

The archaeology at Priors Hall shows evidence for numerous specialist tradespeople such as carpenters and builders, tile makers and mortar producers, perhaps being hired from nearby towns to make the pots, tiles, mortar and stone

The archaeology at Priors Hall shows evidence for numerous specialist tradespeople such as carpenters and builders, tile makers and mortar producers, perhaps being hired from nearby towns to make the pots, tiles, mortar and stone

‘As master developers, it is important for us to uncover and preserve this history and we’re delighted with the role that Oxford Archaeology have played in this process.’ 

NCC County Archaeological Advisor Lesley-Ann Mather said this was part of an ongoing scheme of archaeological resource management on the Priors Hall site.  

‘The previous archaeological evaluations within this area had identified that archaeological activity was present, however, the discovery of a Late Romano British industrial complex was entirely unexpected.’

The Roman villa complex that the newly discovered industrial area serviced is to be preserved in situ and left as grassland, Northamptonshire County Council said.

‘It will be covered by a heritage management plan which will protect and manage it in the long term,’ Mather said. 

A drone shot of the late Roman industrial complex. The location of the site were uncovered in the final century of the Roman occupation, a time of economic and social turmoil within the empire

A drone shot of the late Roman industrial complex. The location of the site were uncovered in the final century of the Roman occupation, a time of economic and social turmoil within the empire

A complete zoomorphic buckle depicting two flanking dolphins was found within the excavation

A complete zoomorphic buckle depicting two flanking dolphins was found within the excavation

Oxford Archaeology East is now washing and cataloguing finds recovered from the site, ready to be sent for specialist analysis.  

Over 2000 villas are known from Roman Britain and over forty are known in Northamptonshire alone and although a large proportion have been excavated – the focus has been on the principal complex. 

Less is known about the sourcing and manufacturing of materials to construct them and how they operated, and less still is known about the people who built them.   

A large quantity of ceramic tiles were found, many of which had fingerprint impressions from the people who made them. 

A tile fragment included the partial inscription of the name of the maker, likely to be a name of one of the tilers themselves immortalised in clay.  

How England spent almost half a millennium under Roman rule

55BC – Julius Caesar crossed the channel with around 10,000 soldiers. They landed at a Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet and were met by a force of Britons. Caesar was forced to withdraw.

54BC – Caesar crossed the channel again in his second attempt to conquer Britain. He came with with 27,000 infantry and cavalry and landed at Deal but were unopposed. They marched inland and after hard battles they defeated the Britons and key tribal leaders surrendered.

However, later that year, Caesar was forced to return to Gaul to deal with problems there and the Romans left.

54BC – 43BC – Although there were no Romans present in Britain during these years, their influence increased due to trade links.

43AD – A Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius appointed Plautius as Governor of Britain and returned to Rome.

In 43AD, a Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius then arrived in Colchester with reinforcements

In 43AD, a Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius then arrived in Colchester with reinforcements

47AD – Londinium (London) was founded and Britain was declared part of the Roman empire. Networks of roads were built across the country.

50AD – Romans arrived in the southwest and made their mark in the form of a wooden fort on a hill near the river Exe.  A town was created at the site of the fort decades later and names Isca. 

When Romans let and Saxons ruled, all ex-Roman towns were called a ‘ceaster’. this was called ‘Exe ceaster’ and a merger of this eventually gave rise to Exeter.   

75 – 77AD – Romans defeated the last resistant tribes, making all Britain Roman. Many Britons started adopting Roman customs and law.

122AD – Emperor Hadrian ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep Scottish tribes out.

312AD – Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal throughout the Roman empire.

228AD – The Romans were being attacked by barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in the country started to be recalled to Rome.

410AD – All Romans were recalled to Rome and Emperor Honorious told Britons they no longer had a connection to Rome.

Source: History on the net

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