More than 100 people squeezed into the church of St Remigius at Water Newton on Saturday afternoon. They were drawn there to hear feedback on the exploratory excavation that had taken place in July within the walled Roman town of Durobrivae.
Dr Stephen Upex, who has been leading the Durobrivae project for the Nene Valley Archaeological Trust, explained the background to the site – as well as the preliminary findings from this summer.
Tantalising glimpses of the Basilica, a Romano-Celtic shrine, a possible mansio and, just perhaps, a very early church.
The excavation had been over three years in the planning. It needed to correspond with the detailed criteria agreed with Historic England who are responsible for the scheduled monument. A comprehensive geophysical survey informed the location of the 12 trenches which were dug by a team of 40 students from Cardiff University.
Although multiple areas were explored the total excavation area represented just 0.003% of the total site. The focus was on understanding the state of preservation of the features – and their susceptibility to further degradation through animal damage. It was found that there has been extensive rabbit damage to a depth of up to 2.5m!
Basilica A trench across a suite of rooms apparent from the geophysical survey did indeed locate a floor and two walls – though the stone from the walls had been entirely robbed out.
Shrine A trench was located across the "ambulatory" which surrounded a Romano-Celtic temple. The floor surface comprised a rather heavily worn coarse mosaic.
Mansio A similar story where the expected wall positions were found but again the stone had been robbed out in the late Roman period.
Trench 1 This was the one trench which was more than a 1m wide strip. It was located on the south edge of Ermine Street, possibly a site excavated in the 19th century by Artis. The archaeology was confusing but significant walls were identified – including a small fragment of red painted plaster. A working hypothesis is that these buildings may have been the baths of the nearby mansio.
The Mound A trench was dug towards the edge of the distinctive mound which is possibly a relic pre-historic feature. An east-west wall alignment in this area conflicts with the general site layout. Might this be an indication of an early Christian presence?
“Finds” included 763 coins, 85kg of bones and nearly 6,000 pottery sherds. However, the absence of certain types of finds was equally intriguing. The coins were heavily biased to late denominations (4-5th century). There were few personal effects such as pins and broaches, nor Samian ware or amphorae. There were no quern stones and mortaria (was flour being processed outside the town?)
Subject to satisfying the demands of Historic England, the team is keen to return in subsequent years to build a more comprehensive picture of the development and life of the town, and its relationship to its surrounding suburbs.
The afternoon at Water Newton was rounded off by a fascinating biography of Edmund Tyrell Artis delivered by NVAT chairman, Geoffrey Dannell.