First day of spring, an eclipse, and now…..

The date: 21.3.2015

The time: 9.50 am

The place: Uppermill Civic Hall


Commiserations if you couldn’t be there… you missed a great day – it was a fine gathering of archaeologists (prof and am) looking at what Romans were up to when in t’ North, a sharing of projects, of triumphs, of frustrations, of hopes, of dreams, of wonderful archaeology, and of wonderful things.

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And the lovely audience enjoyed it too, here’s some of the backs of their heads!…


Here’s Norman Redhead and Mike Nevell from Salford Uni introducing the day……

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First up was Kurt Hunter Mann from York Archaeological Trust …. DSC_0448..talking about Ravenglass……


The project that Kurt discussed was carried out 2013 – 14, and involved no less than 35 hectares of magnetic survey… map of that shown here, find it at ..rir-lge-map

ravenglass-hero   This is the famous bathhouse at Ravenglass,


Kurt talked about the digging of 4 trenches, the first of which contained a road that went East from the site probably to Hardknott and Ambleside. The road had been previously seen as a possibility from aerial photography and was found to be well constructed in layers using lots of material that would make a good road surface.

They found evidence of dense occupation, a very fine building foundation and even the use of Skiddaw slate for roofing.

The second trench was industrial and the third contained building and occupational debris. The final trench was a possible boundary feature.  Overall they found much Samian, 2nd and 3rd C greyware, and mortaria.  In summary he felt that the site had shown complex occupation and networks, not just functioning as a port as previously thought.

Get more info on this at:  – seems a good site to keep an eye on for conferences generally as well as Ravenglass news/events.

Next up – Steven Rowland from Oxford Archaeology North, with news from the Maryport Roman settlement project, Cumbria 2013-14


This community dig also went over the two seasons 2013-14, with the aim of looking more closely at the civilian settlement in order to gain a fuller picture of ordinary life by the sea at Roman Maryport.

The site of an earlier temporary marching camp, Maryport is now understood as a fort from c. AD 120 to the 4th Century.  It is considered to be at the Western/Southern end of Hadrian’s Wall coastal defences, and an important part of the Northern frontier, possibly some sort of command centre.

floor maryport

One can always expect great things from Maryport and here’s an image of the archaeology, a beautiful building with a very fine floor in a central room, to support that!

Image from


Stephen said that the footings were wide enough to support a 2nd storey, slate-roofing, but not much tumble of stone so probably timber-framed?

Here’s a drawn image that Stephen showed us – find it at:

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Civilian finds were plentiful: Samian ware; a jet finger ring; a bracelet; querns; spindle whorls; cooking vessels; a cheese press… and also some military finds: a clump of chain-mail; and a spear-head.  Some possible Pictish carvings were discovered and part of an altar, probably domestic/portable.  I suppose it wouldn’t be Maryport without something of an altar – and here’s a lovely picture from Maryport’s altar collection just for interest.  Image taken from the bbc website as above.






The day continued with David Petts from Durham University, his talk was ‘Binchester Roman Fort’.

DSC_0473Binchester seems to be the iconic Roman fort – a large rectangular structure, the barracks for a cavalry regiment, corner tower, bread ovens in the walls.  And a good source of nicely dressed masonry for the population miles around.

But what a tremendous site to dig.

Here’s an image (from of a head of a probable deity, found by a student on his first day on site!!  Surely everyone’s dream.

headIt came out of a bathhouse which, it seems, had fallen out of use and from then used as a dump, so much so that it was filled with a huge amount of waste – David said the whole building was encased in rubbish, leading to exceptional preservation. (Reminder of Gobekli Tepe?) They found a great deal – big chunks of decorated plaster, lots of pottery ware, glass vessels, metalwork.  Also, simply sitting in the bathhouse, an altar or two importantly dating from late 4th Century, just left in place and covered with trash.

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Also found was a silver ring with an early Christian symbol, dated to the early 4th Century and having a significant place in the body of knowledge of the early Christian faith in Britain.

The site is backfilled now for the short term, but consolidated for future excavation over time.

This picture is also from the Binchester blogspot as above, definitely worth keeping your eye on for news…binchester

Last talk of the morning was our own Norman Redhead (Salford University) with the summary of the ‘Redefining Roman Castleshaw’ project started last summer.



Here he is on site last summer, standing in Trench 2, the most enigmatic trench you could wish for I believe.  (Aside from the one with altars, bathhouses, carved heads and early Christian rings.)

At the conference Norman went through the history of the site from Percival’s writing in 1751/2 –  I won’t go through this here as you can find the full history in the early pages of this blog.  Many of the photos taken during the dig and used at the conference are in these pages too… I’ll pick out a few for you, but for the rest just have a look back.  The dig ran for 4 weeks last summer, and Norman made the point that the weather was great every day for those weeks, except 2 rainy Saturdays (when he was there doing tours!).  This much sun is almost unheard of for Castleshaw and we greatly appreciated it!

We did training days for the volunteers and involved the local Key Stage 2 children.  We had over 130 adults working as volunteers for at least one day over the 4 weeks.  We had Duke of Edinburgh Gold Students working there. We had many visitors and did many tours. In this project we were only allowed to re-dig trenches from earlier digs, with a small amount of extension, but still, it was great.  So here’s the photos for you…. you really can find many in pages below.

Trench One…… DSC_0683DSC_0685 ramparts in Trench One





.A hearth in Trench Two…….



and the turf layers in the Eastern ramparts






The Eastern gateway postholes from drone, the strange stone pad and the start of the road to the East over to Slack.



To everyone involved the project seemed like a great success, and a strong platform for our next bid.

Reportage should be available in April.

After this it was questions for the morning speakers, and then…..

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DSC_0513(Slightly reminiscent of Trench One Castleshaw!)

First after lunch, Nick Hodgson from Tyne and Wear Museums, talking about Wallquest and recent community archaeology discoveries on Hadrian’s Wall.

DSC_0518Nick says there’s a bus that will take you the length of the Wall, with interesting stopping points.  Sounds like a fab day out to me.  He discussed sites at the Eastern end of the Wall, and even at Wallsend, where there had been a replica of the one at Chesters (on the Wall), the real bath house was discovered last year.  It was Hadrianic in type with hypercaust pillars still in place. An undoubted triumph.

Look at for more information.  How great for Nick to be able to say that Osbourne has just announced £500K for archaeological development at Wallsend!

Then came Mark Graham from Grampus Heritage on Discovering Derventio (Papcastle).


The site was discovered after the floods of 2009, which brought in their wake gravel deposits containing Roman pottery. Eventually this led to excavations and 168 km of magnetometry by volunteers.

The list of what was found is significant and impressive: a typical Roman house; with figurines; glass; spindle whorls; pottery; an early 2nd – 4th C Roman mill; with slate roof; a timber lined mill race; piece of an altar; pottery; courtyard building interpreted as a mansio; bathhouse (of course); a 2nd bathhouse (no!); an iron lamp stand 1.7m; a laconium (circular dry sauna); and a corpse.  The skeleton was identified as from the Roman period, locally born and raised.  He (?) had spina bifida – here’s a question – could he have been a human sacrifice?  At least there was evidence, even if unwelcome, of ‘ritual’ goings-on – libation cups, tiny artefacts for votive offering such as a small axe, a tiny lamp, a fine glass mosaic bowl and a copper alloy deer.  Then there were the heads and a plaque: this quite amazingly lifted casually on edge by a man with trowel and underneath was the carving of male figure.  The figure then interpreted as a ‘genius’ or spirit of the place.

Look at – there are many great photos of the above on there but they’re aren’t available for public use so I can’t get them for you.  Not only great photos but also general info like a day conference in York on Magic and Religion in Roman times – June 6th. This is one for me for sure – if only my niece wasn’t getting married on that day…perhaps she’d change it…?!

Mike Harding Brown was next, and who wasn’t sad to hear about the desperate state of the Melandra site?  It’s incredible that there was so much archaeology there, and now sadly covered or gone, for example – big stones, walls, cremation burials, an altar top, preserved leather, wood, bucket.  Some of these, Mike said, were taken to Manchester Museum but they were too expensive to keep preserved and so they were taken back to the site with the instruction that they should be buried in plastic bags. This was done and now that part is land-slipped.

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But afternoon break now….DSC_0511






Just time to look at the photo boards and stalls…




And two speakers left – first David Cockman from Huddersfield Archaeology Society, talking about their excavations at Slack Roman Fort 2007-10.

DSC_0440Echoed I’m certain by all present, David expressed discontent at the covering of Slack Roman Fort by a golf club and car park – and incredulity at how permission could have been gained for such a thing. We know there were walls and arches there and some great finds even by walkers around the moors and the motorway construction works, also, as David told us, an altar was found in Greetland. HDAS have done what they can around the perimeters though and in their excavations starting 2007 found a ‘sealed fresh water conduit’, a wonderful finding in the circumstances.  It was topped with the clay seal with flat stones making the conduit underneath, and greatly pleasing was the fact that there was still water going through it.  Carbon dating of some of the found wood gave a 95% probability of AD130 – 350, although the fort was supposedly abandoned in AD140.  An open question was from whence cometh the water… and a few possibilites were considered, most notably the field at Spring Head farm.  More work was done in the field at the other side of the motorway and more water courses found.  Reports may be on website soon,

The final talk of the day was by Ian Miller of Oxford Archaeology North and his talk was ‘Salt making in Salinae: excavations in Roman Middlewich’

DSC_0442 (2)In a developer-led excavation (site now under a housing estate) the possibility of Roman salt-making in Cheshire was under investigation.  The story had been in progress pre-2008 when several evaluation trenches had been dug – possible findings were Roman ditches, definite were a Samian bowl, mortaria, oxidized ware, grey ware. Nothing happened because of lack of money until 2012 when the call came to go back to the site. This time more trenches were dug and a Roman timber-lined brine well was discovered, the timber with a felling date of AD147-8.  Inside the well were, staggeringly, a quern stone with its metal pivot still in place, a folded lead sheet into which was tucked a piece of Samian dated to AD150-60.  This seems to put the use of lead boiling pans for salt to an earlier date than previously thought and possibly in confirmations was a dupondius of Trajan AD103-17.  A second oak timber-lined brine shaft was found and interpreted as a huge storage system dating to AD127-63. Also found were 2 brine boiling hearths and scrap lead, oak and ash charcoal and 40 kg of briquetage.  Incense burners found may give the impression of ‘ritual’ – a much used, much disliked word but possibly burning incense was quite a common occurrence!

Question time once more…. (yes all the speakers and presenters were men, but try not to worry)

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and surprisingly, as it was a full and long day, most of the audience were still with us for this!





Mike gave a vote of thanks to all the speakers, the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts, the caterers (Ravenstone), the Civic Hall staff, and all the audience, very much deserved!



And to Norman, a special vote of thanks, for having the vision to push on with the project, for driving us forward more or less all the time, for wanting to put on this conference, and for all his good-humoured dedication to Castleshaw.  Congratulations Norman, it was great, and here’s to the next one!

Fond regards to all you blog-followers and readers, hoping to be back soon

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