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Durobrivae - Excavation - 2019


Long-term Project

For the first time in around 200 years excavations were carried out in the walled area of the Roman town of Durobrivae. A team of local people, members of the NVAT and the British Museum along with students and staff from Cardiff University spent the whole of July digging eleven trenches in various spots inside the Roman town. 

This exploratory dig formed part of a long-term programme of investigation being coordinated by the Nene Valley Archaeological Trust. It had been preceded by two phases of geophysical survey.

Summary of Objectives & Conclusions

Historic England asked for some aspects of the town to be explored to assess the preservation of the archaeological deposits, the intensity of the rabbit damage and to make comments on the features examined together with their dates.  Target trenches were set out based on the geophysical survey to explore strip houses along Ermine Street, areas within the public buildings - again seen on both air photographs and the geophysical plots, areas away from the main concentrations of buildings and the curious mounded feature seen in the 1820s which has been considered recently to have been prehistoric in origin but with Roman buildings built over it. 

The excavation results showed that almost all of the walls of the domestic and public buildings had been robbed out in the late Roman period, perhaps to provide material to strengthen the defensive circuit around the town. It turn this defensive circuit must have been robbed in the late Saxon or early medieval period, perhaps for local church and monastic buildings at Peterborough and elsewhere. 

A Romano-Celtic temple was found to have part of its tessellated limestone flooring intact and this must represent one of the last buildings being used on the site. This floor was well worn but had been repaired with red roof tile fragments and had a coin dated to AD 403 laying on its surface. Equally late was a structure built over the mounded feature in the south-eastern part of the town - the only building not to have had its walls robbed. This building is curious - it is orientated east west, unlike the rest of the buildings in the town which are generally aligned to the nearby road system. What this building is remains problematic but it may have some late Christian connection which only future excavation can unravel.

The largest trench in 2019 (Trench 1) was placed over an area of the town that had undergone severe rabbit damage and the excavation showed burrows to the astonishing  depth of 2.3m which has caused severe damage to the archaeological deposits. However, Roman walls in this trench were still standing to a height of 2.2m with fragments of wall plaster  intact. The walls were substantially built and quantities of box and flue tiles suggested that it may have been a bath house, either for use within the town or perhaps associated with a mansio that lay to the west. There are plans afoot to carry out further work at the site at some point in the future.

It is important to record thanks from the excavation team to the landowner Mr Robin Waterworth and the farm manager Mr Ian Wright for their generous assistance in many aspects of the excavation work. 

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Wall in Trench 1 - with rabbit damage behind

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Tessellated limestone floor of temple ambulatory - Trench 8


Apart from the large trench referred to above, ten 5m by 1m trenches provided a spatial spread across the walled area of the town, often targeting anomalies identified by geophysical survey.

The trenches excavated a total area of 112 sq m (equivalent to less than 0.05% of the walled area). All trenches were entirely excavated by hand to the first significant archaeological deposits or to a safe working depth (generally never more than 1.2m with the exception of Trench 1 whose edges were stepped to enable safe excavation of the late pits and rabbit disturbance to a greater depth). 


Trench locations superimposed on magnetometry survey


The excavation produced 785 registered ‘small finds’, of which 595 were coins. All but one of the coins were struck during the Roman period with
most dating from the later-3rd and 4th centuries. There were relatively few personal items – including only 4 brooches, 2 finger rings, an enamelled chatelaine, two glass beads and 9 bone hair pins. 


Bone hair pins, brooches, and enamelled chatelaine 

Over 100kg of pottery were recorded. Most was coarse ware, with the earliest recognisable forms of vessels being a series of cordoned slashed jars of early to mid-2nd century date. The small amount of Samian shows a Flavian presence implying that the town was well established by the end of this period and there is a strong bias to products from the Antonine period.


Slashed cordoned jars

The evaluation produced just over 1 tonne of artefacts classed as ‘bulk finds’, of which the majority consists of broken Ceramic Building Materials (bricks and tiles).

Full Report

The Assessment Report providing detailed information about the 2019 Evaluation can be accessed via the following link:

Open Days

Two open days during the course of the excavation allowed 140 people to visit the site. First feedback was provided in October 2019 to a packed audience in the Church of St Remigius at Water Newton.

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