An archaeological dig investigating Roman ‘mystery monuments’ in Cumbria has been nominated for one of the prestigious Current Archaeology magazine awards.
The Senhouse Museum Trust and archaeologists from Newcastle University, supported by volunteers, have been working on the site in Maryport for four years, courtesy of the landowner the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. The team is now planning their fifth and final season next summer.
The Maryport project, led by Professor Ian Haynes of Newcastle University and site director Tony Wilmott, is one of six archaeological research projects across the country to be nominated. The award is made to the project which gets the most public votes.
Prof Haynes says: “Maryport is a fabulous site on which to work and is part of the Roman frontier that includes Hadrian’s Wall. Even the most optimistic of us have been thrilled by the results that have come from the project.
"Not only have we been able to totally overturn the long-established explanation of why the largest-ever cache of Roman altars to be discovered in Britain was buried here, we have also discovered colossal and entirely unsuspected timber buildings from the twilight of the Roman Empire. These mystery monuments were built on foundations packed with stone – and that is why the altars came to be in the pits – they were reused as ballast!
“The pits themselves had been disturbed by antiquarians in 1870, and as we now know, even earlier explorers, but we were able to find several that they never spotted, and this was the key to reinterpreting the mystery. Few on the team will forget the moment when we lifted a particularly fine altar from one of the pits where it had lain hidden for centuries.
“Combining these wonderful discoveries with the excavation of the temples nearby, the buildings for which the altars were probably originally intended, has been a fantastic opportunity and given us a glimpse of one of the finest sacred landscapes to be excavated on the Roman frontier to date.”
From a section of fallen wall and roof of one of the temples the team was able to estimate its height to allow a reconstruction drawing to be made by Oxford Archaeology North, commissioned by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust.
The temple was built from local materials with red sandstone walls and a slate roof, and was originally located in the 1880s by local bank manager and amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson.
David Breeze, chairman of the Senhouse Museum Trust said: “We know how special this site is, people have been investigating it in various ways for hundreds of years and much of what they have found is now on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum next to the site.
“With modern surveying and excavation techniques we’re able to gain a much more detailed picture of how the site developed over time, the relationship between the fort and the civilian settlement, and how people lived here.
“It would be fantastic to win the award for Maryport and indeed for the Roman frontier.”
To vote go to the Current Archaeology website. Voting closes on 6 February and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 27 February at Current Archaeology Live! 2015.
published on: 15 December 2014