Stepping through three episodes and forty years of archaeology…
First: 1957 – 1964
After the Castleshaw Forts were scheduled as an Ancient Monument in 1935 there are no obvious traces of any archaeology, or anything at all, taking place at the site until 1957. However in this year a dig was begun by C. Rosser of the History Department at the University of Manchester and continued as student training excavations until his death in 1961. In 1963 the University took up the project again under F.H Thompson. In 1967 he published a summary of the work of the entire period. There were some small finds: 2 denari, one from Nero AD 63-68; small bronze pieces; glass beads; bottles; pottery, although only one fragment of Samian ware; and various pieces of iron including nails.
But the most striking find – from the 63-4 series – was not Roman at all. It was the Beaker pottery sherds, dated c.1550 BC (Bronze Age) and mentioned already in the second post of this blog. There were 122 sherds, packed into a pit 21 ins in diameter and 15 ins deep, representing 5 pots (at least). Here’s a fabulous photo of one of the reconstructions from the actual pottery sherds! (Photo appears courtesy of Norman Redhead.)
Second: 1984 – 1988
In this next period the Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit (GMAU) were granted permission for excavations at the forts. The overall purpose was restricted to one of returning the site to the way it was prior to the Bruton, Andrew and Lees work of 1907/8. Here’s a picture, copied here by kind permission of Eddie Lyons, a member of the team at the time. Eddie says “It shows the western part of the site after trowelling back the area of the NW quarter of the fortlet. At the bottom of the photo is the road that ran just inside the north rampart, with the area of the courtyard building in between that and the ladder. Also visible in the ground around the ladder and to the right of it are the early 20th C stakes marking the positions of the postholes of the granary building, before any of them were excavated by the 1988 crew.” And about to take a photo up the ladder is Norman Redhead….
Given the limitations of the purpose of the dig there was quite a range of finds, including many sherds of Samian ware, coarse ware, and the usual bronze and iron pieces. But I’ve picked out for special attention the beautiful ‘Intaglio’ – found in the 1986 season:
The image is of the goddess Minerva, denoting music, poetry, medicine and wisdom, and it’s carved into carnelian, a semi-precious gemstone. Carnelian was used widely during Roman times to make rings for sealing with wax on correspondence or other important documents, probably because it’s easy to carve and hot wax does not stick to the stone. An important possession then, lost and left for us to wonder over!
(Photo and information courtesy of Sue Smith.)
And the other find I’ve picked out is one of more than a dozen gaming counters, to show you what the soldiers did to relax after their day’s work. I can’t show you the actual counters found but the game is said to be ludus latrunculorum – ‘the soldiers’ game’ or the ‘brigands game’ – any translation of it will give you the meaning that, like chess, it’s about military strategy. The game was played widely in Ancient Rome and probably dates back in similar form to Ancient Greece. Here’s a picture from Verulanium of a ludus gameboard and counters:
and here’s a very fine ludus board from Rome:
Third: 1994 – 1996
The areas of Daycroft and Tangs Field, outside of the forts, were excavated by the GMAU in this period and reported on by 1997. Among the usual finds of glass, metal and pottery, were sherds of Samian Ware. Together the structural finds and the dating of the Samian Ware led to the understanding that there had been the development of a substantial settlement area probably during the 2nd Century AD, i.e. at the phase of the second smaller fort. The area had not been well defended and possibly not even enclosed. The GMAU report says that it is likely to have been a military vicus, usually attached to forts, but on a small scale due to the short time of occupation at Castleshaw. Attracted to live in the vicus would have been, for example, “dependents, veterans, merchants, craftsmen…” (GMAU 1997). The 1996 and 1997 reports can be read in detail by those with access to the members’ area of the website and there’s a good sketch-map of the area of the excavation (1997, Fig 4). Sorry it can’t be copied here. Overall the dig left the team with some very interesting questions – especially in relation to the pathway of the road, and the locations of the cemetery and the bath house.
And, yes, the questions lead directly to this century’s archaeology at Castleshaw Roman Forts!
Scribi primum trabem postmodo…..
GMAU. 1997. Castleshaw Evaluation Stage 2. GMAU. / Thompson. F.H. 1967. The Roman Fort at Castleshaw, Yorkshire (W.R.): Excavations 1957-64. The Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 77.