Archaeologists working on the monumental dig at Maryport in Cumbria say they have “comprehensively overturned” long-held theories that the altars found at the site in the 19th century were used in Roman religious and ritual burial ceremonies.
Ten pits have been excavated in the six-week project, including a fire brigade intervention which hosed the squared-off grounds with 1,500 gallons of water from three trucks.
Masses of broken red sandstone and huge granite boulders have been found, as well as the bases of massive, rotted timber posts which left traces of green-stained sand.
Among a series of new examples of the altars the area is best known for concealing, decorations featured a six-petalled rosette, a circle and a fragment from a stone dedicated by a Spaniard during the reign of Hadrian, completing an existing stone in the nearby Senhouse Roman Museum.
Site Director Tony Wilmott and Professor Ian Haynes, the Excavation Director for the project, said that research on the fragments showed that they came from altars originally found in the 17th and 18th centuries, and were only used as packing material for the posts in the later burials.
Six post-pits, discovered in a line, suggest a wall of a mystery building, and a curving group of four pits could indicate an adjacent development in the vicinity.
“The altars excavated in 1870 are an internationally important find because of the information they provide about the lives of commanding officers in the Roman empire,” said Peter Greggains, the Chairman of the Senhouse Museum Trust.
“Now we are beginning to see how the site here at Maryport developed too. The excavation has really brought the site to life.”
Experts, students and a volunteer team of 28 local residents will end their investigation this week, with their finds going on show at the museum and the £10.7 million Roman Maryport visitor complex planned for 2014.
“We are committed to the development of Roman Maryport and the site so that they can be managed and safeguarded together,” added Nigel Mills, of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, who said Maryport could provide a “key tourist attraction” and an “economic boost” for West Cumbria.
“The excavation has yielded fascinating results and shows the potential of the site.”
- Visit the excavation blog for more on the project.