There's Something to Dig about History; Binchester Hopes to Be an Attraction

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson

AFIVE-YEAR series of digs has started to investigate the treasure trove potential of one of the North East's major Roman forts.

Binchester fort near Bishop Auckland in County Durham is on Dere Street - the main Roman road linking York to Corbridge and Scotland - and guarded the route's crossing of the River Wear.

is thought the adjacent civilian settlement took up another 30 to 40 acres.

Only a fragment of the later nine-acre fort has been excavated.

In the 19th Century a farm cart fell down a hole, revealing what is the best-preserved military bath house in Britain. At present, the

Durham County Council site attracts only 4,000-5,000 visitors a year.

Now it is hoped the programme of annual digs will reveal more of the fort and its layout, raise the profile of the site and increase the chances of funding to turn Binchester into a major attraction.

The county council's archaeology section is working with the Church Commissioners, their agents Smithsgore and tenant farmers Julie and Gordon Sedgewick.

Taking part in the excavations is the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland and diggers from the local community.

Also involved are students from Stamford University in California, where Professor of Classics Mike Shanks is from the Blyth area of Northumberland.

In 2007, TV's Time Team broad- cast from the site and uncovered mausoleums on the road to the fort and signs of the extend of the original base.

County archaeologist and Binchester project director Dr David Mason said: "Only a tiny proportion of the fort and its civil settlement have been excavated and the Time Team investigation demonstrated the site is of even greater importance and extent than hitherto believed. …