One of the most interesting aspects of Roman urban archaeology is the study of what happened outside of the walls of towns. Activity in those areas (variously termed ‘suburbs’, ‘extra mural’, or ‘peri urban’) typically included burial, industry (particularly those industries that were anti social in nature due to noise, smell and fire risk, and the gathering of natural resources such as clay and stone), and trading. Often, though, our evidence for those activities and how they interacted is patchy and extra mural areas are generally not well understood archaeologically.
Modern Newport in Lincoln, stretching northwards broadly on the line of the great Roman road known as Ermine Street, is an area of immense interest. Roman inhumations and cremations are known from both sides of the road as it heads northwards from Newport Arch, suggesting that burial occured there throughout the whole Roman period. Roadside structures and associated courtyard surfaces excavated on the Bishop Grosseteste University campus in the mid 1990s and again in 2012, originally interpreted as a farmstead, now appear to be part of the ribbon of activity stretching northwards from the town, and may represent a trader’s property, warehouse or drinking establishment.
A recent community project to explore the multi-period archaeology of Newport has been run by the Lincoln Archaeology Group during 2015 and 2016, excavating 23 test pits on Newport and Riseholme Road. The project has just launched a new display on the project at The Collection in Lincoln – open until 17th December 2016 – and well worth a visit. The display presents the key finds and their context, but also the story of the project and the dedicated and talented team that have made it happen.
Among the more important Roman discoveries unearthed by the project is the most northerly roadside burial yet known from Lincoln, that of a ‘gracile’ late Roman female. Discovered close to the Riseholme Road roundabout, in an area traditionally considered to be the point that the extra mural occupation petered out and the field systems surrounding the Colonia began, it highlights the potential for further discoveries in this area. The find was made close to where the marble torso from a Roman bull statuette was discovered a couple of years ago (see this entry on The Collection’s blog for more on that discovery).
Evidence of a previously unknown structure was uncovered in the form of a well preserved cobbled surface, originally an outdoor surface. The nature of the building it was associated with could not be discerned through test pitting, but its presence will help steer future research and developer funded archaeology in the area.
The project has also revealed some lovely examples of Roman ceramic vessels, some reconstructable to an extent that indicates that they have been found in their primary places of deposit. The colour coated ware beaker with moulded floral motifs (wonderfully dubbed ‘daisy ware’ by the project team), is a particularly fine vessel, and believed to have been a locally made product.
Equally characterful is the sherd of samian ware decorated with a boar which became the project’s emblem.
An unusual discovery was a complete ceramic bowl, discovered still broadly in its original form. It was discovered beneath a floor surface, and looked very much like it had been deliberately crushed. Could it represent a votive deposition, placed prior to the construction of the floor? In the same trench were found some lovely fragments of hairpins and a small copper alloy spoon.
Perhaps the most significant ceramic find is the discovery of 1st Century AD ‘Legionary ware’ at the northern end of Newport. This is the first discovery of this particular ware outside of the walls of the legionary fortress, and hints at the military activity that must have ocurred outside the defences, of which we currently know very little. That it came from the north of the fortress is especially interesting, as the focus of interest for extra mural activity (e.g. the canabae and vicus) has traditionally been to the south on the hillside.
This blog is, of course, biased towards the Roman discoveries made by the project, but the finds have been multi-period, and have included Early Medieval ‘dark earth’, Medieval walls and more modern ceramics and even children’s toys – a real cross section of life in the area across two millennia. The project will hopefully be fully published in due course.
Head to the Lincoln Archaeology Group’s website to read more about the project (including a dig diary), and their other activities, past and present.