A major archaeological investigation into the mystery of a group of Roman stones found more than 140 years ago has begun on the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site in Cumbria.
© Courtesy Senhouse Roman Museum
The Roman altars, dedicated to the Roman God of Jupiter, were found by local digger Humphrey Senhouse at Camp Farm in 1870, buried under farmland enclosing the Maryport fort and civilian settlement.
Commanders made one stone annually for 17 years as commemorations to their careers across the empire, but their exact purpose remains unknown.
“The Maryport altars have been at the centre of international debate about the nature of religion in the Roman army for decades now,” says Newcastle University’s Professor Ian Haynes, a specialist in the archaeology of the Roman Empire who is renowned for leading excavations on religious sites.
“We still know very little about the context in which they were originally deposited. Excavation is the only way to advance the debate.”
A public appeal for help from members of the local community has drawn about 30 volunteers to the dig, commissioned by planners at the nearby Senhouse Museum, which has provided more than £50,000 in funding.
The project hopes to build on a geophysical survey held on the site by TimeScape Surveys and Southampton University in 2010. Its discoveries are expected to be given to Roman Maryport, the huge new attraction which will be built at Camp Farm in 2014.
“This excavation is an important step towards the establishment of a long-term programme of archaeological research,” says Linda Tuttiett, of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage.
“It’s a key element in the development of Roman Maryport. It will be a world-class heritage destination for domestic and international visitors.”
A series of events have been planned around the excavation, including weekly updates on the Newcastle University, Hadrian’s Wall County and Senhouse Roman Museum websites.
Visitors can ask to be escorted to the site from Senhouse Roman Museum or join a scheduled guided tour, and schools can book a half or full day of activities related to the dig. A lecture programme will also take place.