The important ongoing excavations at Washingborough as part of the construction of Lincoln’s new Eastern Bypass are featured in the latest issue (September/October 2017) of the Council for British Archaeology’s ‘British Archaeology’ magazine.
I’ve written about the site before, and you can read previous blog entries here:
This new article provides more up to date thoughts from the excavators Network Archaeology on the nature of this complex site, which has produced evidence of every period of British history from the Mesolithic to the 19th Century. This blog, of course, is primarily interested in what it adds to our understanding of Roman Lincolnshire, and the article is very useful in that regard. Most valuable is the site plan (below), which has the Roman period remains in red. The two areas of the site, area G to the north (with the River Witham as its northern boundary) and area H to the south (separated from area G by a railway line) have both produced Roman activity, most likely part of a single large domestic, agricultural and industrial complex.
Excavations of the Roman buildings in area H have revealed brooches, glass beads, coins, ceramics (including Samian ware, mortaria and amphorae) and hypocaust and roof tiles. The exact nature and function of the building complex is not currently known, but as the article states, ‘someone clearly lived a prosperous Roman lifestyle here, enjoying the comforts of a suburban homestead.’ The idea that the buildings represent a high status dwelling at the heart of a riverside agricultural and industrial estate is currently favoured.
The wider agricultural landscape has been revealed in the form of various ditched enclosures and droveways to the northwest of the buildings, which has included some unusual parallel gullys which were originally interpreted as being possibly related to vine cultivation. Soil samples taken from these gullys are currently being analysed to test this hypothesis.
To the east of the enclosures and north of the buildings is evidence of industrial activity. This might have supported the construction and maintenance of the complex, have produced products for sale, or perhaps both. Two pottery kilns at the site were producing coarse-ware vessels, and it is hoped that further study of these will enable the production place of previously known vessels from Lincolnshire (and perhaps beyond) to be revealed and the trade networks better understood. A lime kiln was also excavated, producing an important element of the production of mortar, plaster and opus signinum for building projects. The only Roman burials yet discovered (six of them) were found in this area, and it will be interesting to see whether they are contemporary with the industrial activity, or if that area of the site changed use over time. The burials are all inhumations, aligned north-south, and two were buried with intact ceramic vessels.
To the east of the main buildings is a clay lined rectangular pit, tentatively interpreted as a fish pond. The clay lining would have prevented water seeping away (or perhaps, so close to the river, to stop ground water seeping in) and clay lined pits are found at other Romano-British sites associated with settling tanks for aqueducts and brine pits for salt production. The possibility that the feature is associated with industrial activity or water management at the site therefore also seems feasible.
In area G the Roman activity is less pronounced with fewer, larger enclosures and only one possible structure, interestingly potentially surviving long enough to become connected with Medieval buildings. The break between the two areas is an artificial one, caused by the railway line, and the Roman occupation was clearly continuous. The nature of the surface scatter of Roman artefacts close to the river is not fully understood, but the article suggests they may represent evidence from as yet unidentified buildings, or of items lost in the boggy ground. The preservation of these objects is good, and the assemblage even includes two leather shoes. Sadly there are no images of the shoes yet, but this copper alloy dupondius of Vespasian (minted AD77-78) demonstrates the wonderful preservation well.
The large area to the southwest of area H is still to be investigated, and as the plan shows, there is a maze of enclosure ditches and possibly more structures yet to be revealed.
The article therefore provides a more coherent picture of the site than we have seen before, linking the various elements together and helping to build up our picture of a complex site which clearly thrived and was a dominant element of the riverside east of Lincoln, possibly connected with river-borne trade. There is still further excavation to be done, and more research on the previous discoveries – so you can be sure I’ll be providing updates here as soon as more is known.