Community archaeology project at Roman Maryport makes more discoveries

By Richard Moss | 27 May 2014

A Roman spearhead and high status jewellery are among the discoveries adding to our understanding of the Roman Maryport site in Cumbria

a photo of three people examining a Roman spearhead.
The Roman Spearhead examined by Nigel Mills (left), heritage advisor to the Hadrian's Wall Trust, Jane Laskey, Senhouse Roman Museum and John Zant, the site director for Oxford Archaeology North© Hadrian's Wall Trust
The latest community archaeology excavation at Roman Maryport has thrown up yet more important discoveries that are helping archaeologists to understand more about the coastal frontier fortress on the western edge of Hadrian's Wall.

A “fascinating" variety of artefacts found by archaeologists and volunteers at the site feature a Roman spearhead, fragments of fine tableware imported from Gaul and the Rhineland, storage vessels once filled with Spanish olive oil and Gallic wines, fragments of fine glass beakers and jewellery including a jet finger-ring and part of a decorated glass bangle.

"The ring and bracelet would have been owned by quite well-off women, perhaps the wives and daughters of serving soldiers or retired veterans,” says site director John Zant, piecing together the complex story of the site over at least a couple of hundred years, from around AD100 to AD300, in the company of fellow experts.

As well as the haul of smaller archaeological objects, the dig, led by Oxford Archaeology North and funded by philanthropist Christian Levett, has revealed the tantalising prospect of an earlier fort than the remains excavated so far and a lost Roman harbour to the north of the present day harbour.

"We're concentrating on a building plot on the west side of the road” adds Zant. “It's possible the road linked the fort with a Roman harbour.

"If this were the case, the road would have been a bustling thoroughfare along which most of the people and goods arriving at Maryport would have travelled.”

The remains of a stone building uncovered by the same team in 2013 have been carefully removed revealing earlier Roman remains beneath. Archaeologists say it is now clear that the stone structure replaced an earlier long and narrow building made entirely from timber.

Only the stone-filled construction trenches of the timber building remain, but archaeologists believe at least part of the building was floored with clay and had an internal drainage channel lined with stone slabs.

Further below, several pits are being investigated which point to an even earlier phase of occupation on the site.

One of them has yielded a Samian ware cup in a style that had fallen out of fashion by the early years of the second century AD.

Allied with a late first-century Samian vessel recovered last year, it has led archaeologists to ponder whether the settlement was occupied before the reign of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38) and an earlier Roman fort existed at Maryport.

To the rear of the building plot, three rectangular, vertical-sided pits that may have served as wells or cisterns are also being excavated. 

Detailed analysis of pollen and other environmental remains in the soils at the base of these features may shed light on what they were used for. Samples will also be analysed to provide information on local environmental conditions and cultivation of animals and plants for food.

With the Senhouse Museum Trust and Newcastle University Roman Temples Project dig starting again for six weeks at a different part of the site, Roman Maryport's reputation as a key location for the wider understanding of life in and around Hadrian's Wall is growing.

  • Guided tours of the excavation site, starting from the Senhouse Roman Museum at 2pm and 3.30pm, run Monday-Friday until May 30 2014. Visitors can see the settlement excavation in progress and meet the archaeologists.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a photo of people digging at an archaeological site
Volunteers and archaeologists at work on the Maryport site© Hadrian's Wall Trust
More on this story:

Archaeologists head back to Roman Maryport site to investigate building uncovered in 2013

Archaeologists discover Roman shop in latest Maryport dig at Hadrian's Wall

Archaeologists await surprises as third dig begins at "fantastic" Roman Maryport

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