"Pretty spectacular" finds at Roman cemetery show Carlisle "wasn't just a place where hairy barbarians were selling cows", say archaeologists

By Ben Miller | 11 January 2015

Carlisle was a significant Roman settlement, say archaeologists excavating area associated with town of Luguvalium

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
A honey jar cremation urn found in a burial pit by archaeologists at Botchergate in Carlisle© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A Roman civilian cemetery full of “exceptional” cremation urns from the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, organised into several burial plots and later turned into two circular industrial buildings, has been discovered by archaeologists in Carlisle.

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
A medieval well at the site© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
Excavations around the site of a new Cumbria County Council building show that a cemetery was set up on a central throughfare at Botchergate, an area to the far south of a fort which later became a suburb of the Roman town. The most intense occupation of the area appears to have begun with Roman military expansion, although prehistoric evidence was also recovered.

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
Accessory vessels for a cremation© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
“We were hoping to find something but the quality of the finds was pretty spectacular,” says Frank Giecco, the Technical Director for Wardell Armstrong Archaeology.

“I have never found that sort of quality from working in Carlisle for 20 years.

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
A cremation urn© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
“Carlisle wasn’t just at the edge of the Roman Empire – it was very much part of the Roman Empire.

“This wasn’t a place where hairy barbarians were just selling the Romans some cows. The Roman way of life and planning towns had become embedded here.”

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
A section through a possible medieval ditch© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
Experts believe the use of the grounds had “completely changed” by the middle of the 2nd century, when the continued expansion of the civilian settlement saw the creation of two round buildings, contrasting the rectangular designs usually seen along the route and at similar sites in Britain.

Heat-affected floor surfaces and fuel ash residues suggest at least one of the buildings was used for small-scale industrial purposes – possibly metal or glassworking or dying.

A Roman suburb

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
A medieval well at the site© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
  • The excavations show that Carlisle was a far more significant Roman settlement than archaeologists had thought

  • The dig took place within the former William Street car park and on the frontage at Botchergate

  • Experts say an “important” extramural area, associated with the Roman town of Luguvalium, was found

  • The Roman remains along the frontage appear to have avoided significant disturbance during post-medieval development

A photo of a muddy excavation taking place to reveal various light brown Roman pots
© Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
Three places to see Roman settlements

Piddington Roman Villa Museum, Northampton
Housed in a former Wesleyan chapel, the museum displays some of the many finds made during the long running excavation of the Piddington Roman Villa over 25 years, and still on-going.

Ribchester Roman Bath-House Site, Preston
The Roman fort at Ribchester covers an area of about seven acres, of which about a third has been destroyed by the erosion of the river. Excavation at various times and dates has revealed details of the fort defences, its internal buildings and the external civilian settlement or vicus. Portions of the granaries and bath house are still exposed to view.

Old Sarum, Salisbury
The great earthwork of Old Sarum stands near Salisbury on the edge of Wiltshire's chalk plains. Its mighty ramparts were raised in about 500 BC by Iron Age peoples, and later occupied by the Romans, the Saxons and, most importantly, the Normans.
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