Award-winning Maryport Roman Temples Project begins its final dig at Hadrian's Wall

By Edward Lowton | 18 June 2015

This will be the final year of a five-year project which has done much to deepen understanding of “one of the most important Roman cult complexes” at Hadrian's Wall

Photo of a woman in a high visibility jacket and hard hat excavating
The Maryport Roman Temples Dig 2015 begins© Maryport Roman Temples Project

The final opportunity to visit the award-winning annual dig at the Maryport Roman Temples Project and learn about the excavation directly from lectures by the archaeologists involved has begun in Cumbria.

The eight-week dig aims to explore Roman Maryport’s complex religious landscape and to learn more about the famous altars found at the site, on display in nearby Senhouse Roman Museum. 

“'So much depends on this last crucial season,” says Professor Ian Haynes, leading the community dig. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected. “

The majority of the altars, dedicated annually by the commanders of the Roman fort, were found in an 1870 excavation by Humphrey Senhouse.

Since then, the five year project, commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust and supported by Newcastle University, has done much to develop understanding of the altars.

A photo of large brown stone slabs
© Courtesy Senhouse Roman Museum

In 2011 the project team discovered that the altars were re-used as the foundations for a Roman timber building or buildings and had not been buried as part of a religious ceremony.

Another complete altar was unearthed in the 2012 excavation, with an inscription by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison, known to have served in Austria, Hungary and Romania during his career. A late Roman/early Medieval cemetery was also found. 

In 2013 the team excavated a second century classical temple, the north-westernmost such temple in the Roman world.

“By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” added Professor Hayes.

Part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, for more than 300 years the Roman fort and settlement at Maryport were a significant element of the Roman Empire’s coastal defences along its north western boundary.

“North of England Civic Trust has been working closely with the team to enable this year’s excavation to go ahead as planned,” says Graham Bell, Trust Director. “It holds exciting promise, and provides a great opportunity for volunteers to share in the next chapter in this amazing story of revelation.”

Photo of a stone wall and green fields
A stretch of Hadrian's Wall about 1 mile west of the Roman Fort near Housesteads© Public Domain
Tours of the Temple's excavation site start from the museum on weekday afternoons at 2pm and 3.30pm. They include entry to the museum where there is more information about the Temples Project and the Romans in Maryport. 

The museum also offers an extensive programme of lectures and workshops, for more information visit, senhousemuseum.co.uk/whats_on/.

Dig leader Prof Haynes is also running the free FutureLearn online course Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Frontier available at futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall, with last year’s course attracting participants from over a hundred countries.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24’s coverage of the Maryport Roman Temples Project:

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

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

Altars dedicated to Roman god Jupiter, classical temples intrigue Maryport archaeologists

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Fascinating! Hadrian's Wall is one of most interesting archeological complexes in the Western World. Glad so many are working to bring intelligence and understanding to the public.
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