Further altar stone slab uncovered in latest find for major excavation at Maryport in Cumbria

By Culture24 Staff | 05 July 2011
A photo of a woman holding a slab of brown stone in a pit
Senhouse Roman Museum curator Jane Laskey basks in muddy glory after finding an ancient altar stone during the major dig in a former fort near the Cumbria venue
An altar stone found in a sacred Roman ditch has become the latest precious discovery in the lucrative dig at Maryport in Cumbria.

The 22cm high by 12cm wide altar stone was unearthed by Jane Laskey, the curator of the Senhouse Roman Museum next to the Camp Farm grounds, and becomes the latest sacrificial slab yielded by lands famous for a group of 17 stones found in 1870.

“This is a very exciting find for me because of my close connection with the collection, but it is an achievement for the whole team,” said Laskey, who has been overseeing the museum displays since 2002.

“I was excavating the fill of the ditch with Emma, one of the Newcastle University student volunteers, when we discovered some stone in the bottom.
“Dave, the site supervisor, asked us to remove it. The last stone was a fragment from the top of an altar. I recognised the shape instantly. Emma screamed and the whole site team rushed over to see.

“I have already been through the museum collection to find a similar altar fragment, but this looks like evidence for another completely different altar existing at Maryport.”

Professor Ian Haynes, who is leading the excavation, said the fragment formed part of the top of an altar, with a scroll-like featuring running along its edge.

“My thoughts on the ditch at the moment are that it could have been dug to enclose a sacred space, but further evidence is needed,” he suggested.

“The ditch edges were clearly maintained originally – we can see some attempt to reinforce them made in certain areas which was to prevent the sandy edges crumbling.

“However, because of the position and material surrounding the altar fragment when it was found it looks as if it was discarded in the ditch, which was then allowed to fill up.

“The Fragments of Roman pottery found in the ditch are all Antonine or later, suggesting it was filling up or was filled up in the late second or early third centuries AD.”

The first find, a smaller altar fragment from a different set of stones, was made just days into the dig at the beginning of June.

Planners are hoping to put the new arrivals on show at the proposed new heritage centre at Camp Farm, having submitted a planning application for the development last week.
The dig will continue until July 20 2011.

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