Nothing gets the hearts of history fans racing like a good old-fashioned archaeological dig. The surface-scraping going on at Maryport, the Cumbrian site once roamed by the Romans, holds an almost limitless potential for new discoveries.
Days into the dig, Eric Waters – one of the lucky squad from Newcastle University charged with getting their hands dirty in the tantalising terrain – has found the first of them, a carved red sandstone fragment of a Roman altar stone with a small scroll.
“This is my first excavation and I wasn’t sure what I’d found,” says the first-year archaeology student. “But it was obviously not just a stone, it had a definite curved shape.”
Found north of the 17 sacrificial altars the site is best known for yielding more than a century ago, the shard hints that more are on the way.
“The fragment found by Eric is not from one of the altars now in the [Senhouse Roman] museum,” says Professor Ian Haynes, the leader of the investigation. “This may indicate that there are more altars to be found at Maryport.”
The find is the result of clearance work on the surface soil layers, the first challenge in a project which runs until July 20. The final few days will coincide with an annual Roman Festival at Maryport.
“We’ve been commissioning and supporting research on the site for many years,” adds Professor David Breeze, of the Senhouse Museum Trust, who believes modern innovations should build upon a decade of resistivity, magnetometry and radar work by experts.
“With current archaeological techniques we can find out much more about the site to build a more complete picture of life here on the Roman frontier.”