The Ribchester Roman Dig

On Friday October 20th a talk was given by Dr. James Morris about the ongoing excavation at the Ribchester Roman Fort in Lancashire.This was a great follow up to the visit made by the society to the site in the summer. Dr. Morris explained that the project had started 5 years ago and that they had been digging at the site for the past three years and that under the present proposals there are another 2 years to go. He went on to describe the previous excavations at the site. One of the most important being that of Thomas May in the early 1900s and one of the most talked about being the Time Team dig in the early 1990s.Subsequently our society’s founder Dr. Ben Edwards did a lot of work tying all the excavation reports together.
The aims of the current excavations are to elucidate how much of the archaeology remains and to discover what happened to the fort from the 3rd c. onwards and if there is evidence for the continued use of the fort after the withdrawal of the Roman army in c. A.D.410. To enable these aims to be achieved a trench 20 ft. by 15ft. was dug in the rectory garden with a small extension to abut the playing fields. From this excavation it has been possible to prove that an awful lot of the archaeology survives. Thomas May’s excavations were exposed but much virgin archaeology remains. A small extension was dug to see if there was a ditch; they did not find a really deep ditch as on other parts of the site but only two shallow demarcation ditches. It is believed the vicus existed to the north of the fort.
The first fort on the site was built of wood and was established about A.D. 72-73 according to the dendrochronological dates. This fort had a defensive triple ditch structure. At the time the stone fort was erected in the early part of the 2ndc. it is believed that defence was not as important a consideration.

01 Ribchester NW corner
In the trench that was excavated a probable guardhouse was found. It has been the focus of detailed investigation and has come up with  intriguing finds and structures. The floor structure is pretty much intact. ; it is made of clay which had been frequently repaired with lumps of clay and also with stone capped with clay. Many finds came from this floor and there were interesting spreads of various artefacts including many pieces of pottery and residue from metalworking. It was interesting to note that the centre of the floor was clear of artefacts. it was postulated that the guards needed to collect tolls and probably repaired their equipment on site hence the metal residue. There were many animal bones found to the south which were probably the remains of food waste. Postholes within the guardhouse were found possibly indicating a second storey.
The clay surface was 100% sampled and domesticated oats were found which were carbon dated to A.D. 1300 to 1400. Does this suggest possible continuity of use or reuse of still substantial remains?
To the south of the guardhouse an internal road was found built of waste building material and stones and between the guardhouse and the road a large stone appeared which has been interpreted as a threshold stone.
The southern part of the site was the most complex. Dark earth appeared which is often found on the top of late Roman deposits. An exciting discovery was made; what appears to be post pads for a timber building possibly erected at the very end of the Roman period or even later arguing for continuing use of the site and somewhat analogous to the Birdoswald Hadrian’s Wall site. Much carbon dating is being undertaken. There is also evidence of earlier buildings. The finds were very exciting from this vicinity – a piece of Crambeck and Huntcliff ware which only appears about A.D.380 and displaces other forms of pottery in the archaeological record. This also argues for a late date. On the site as a whole the majority of the pottery recovered is from the late Roman period. Many coins mainly copper and many counterfeit have also been found nearly all from the late Roman period. Much evidence of metal and glassworking was found. Iron and lead working and surprisingly evidence of gilding with traces of mercury and gold. Were the coins used to buy these gilded products?
Amongst the finds from the excavation were a large number of glass beads, hair pins and shale bracelets and much horse furniture and hippo sandals which is indicative of the site’s foundation as a cavalry fort .
This was a very detailed ,informative and thought provoking talk and it would appear that much more remains to be discovered.

Text by Jeanette Dobson

Photo by Bill Shannon

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