Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dig Sheds New Light on Our Hidden City; Roman Past Emerges after 1,800 Years

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dig Sheds New Light on Our Hidden City; Roman Past Emerges after 1,800 Years

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson Environment Editor

A VIVID picture of life in Roman Newcastle is emerging from a city centre dig. Yesterday, the lid of a one-tonne sandstone coffin was removed in the latest development at what has been described by archaeologists as an "absolutely fantastic" excavation at the junction of Forth Street and Hanover Square.

As reported in The Journal yesterday, the dig by a Durham University team has revealed what may be the main road to the Roman fort of Pons Aelius, now under the Castle Keep, a cemetery, and remains of the civilian settlement near the 600-garrison military base.

County archaeologist David Heslop said: "The burials are interesting but what is really important is what the excavations are telling us about life in the Roman town of Pons Aelius.

"Instead of the stray finds of the past, we are now seeing a picture of the Roman road, the cemetery and the civilian settlement probably of shops, workshops, inns, brothels and temples which served the 600 soldiers in the fort."

The discoveries in Newcastle tie in with finds from a dig at Bottle Bank, leading down to the Tyne at Gateshead which uncovered evidence of Roman occupation.

The fort at Newcastle was built around 180-200AD, after the construction in 122 of Hadrian's Wall, which ran along what is now Westgate Road.

Much of the vicus, or civilian settlement is under Newcastle Central Station.

"There was also probably a market at the west gate where the road entered the fort," said David.

"Instead of the speculation of the past, for the first time we are now starting to understand the geography of Roman Newcastle.

"Where there were previously questions we are now getting answers. We are putting flesh on the bones of what was a significant settlement in Newcastle." The dig, by Archaeological Services at Durham University, which still has several weeks to run, has uncovered two 1,800-year-old sandstone raised coffins, or sarcophagi, in what is likely to have been the burial plot of a high status family beside the roadway.

Several cremation pots have also been uncovered, and the first sarcophagi was found to contain the remains of a child of around six and possibly also the bones of an adult.

The excavation will now switch to a different area which is expected to reveal more information about a 13th Century Carmelite friary which occupied the site.

Richard Annis, project manager with Archaeological Services, said: "The burial plot was certainly that of wealthy people as the coffin was a solid lump of stone and quite a piece of work.

"The cost alone of inserting it into the earth would have been high. We had a huge machine to take it out but and the Romans would have had to have used a retinue of people."

We are now seeing a picture of the Roman road, the cemetery and the civilian settlement probably of shops, workshops, inns, brothels and temples which served the 600 soldiers in the fort

THE QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS have been raised about whether the site of such exciting Roman finds in Newcastle should not be developed but instead should be left on display. …

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