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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Excavation sheds more light on life in Roman Maryport

A view has emerged this summer of how the Roman frontier along the edge of the Solway Firth may have looked.

A picture of life on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire has been pieced together following an archaeological dig at the site of a former fort in Maryport.

Academics, volunteers and students have spent the summer in muddy holes working with shovels and trowels looking for artefacts.

The Maryport Roman Temples Dig has taken place on fields near the Senhouse Roman Museum, led by staff from Newcastle University.

In the past three years they have uncovered evidence of a temple to the gods as well as artefacts revealing a civilian settlement around the fort.

Tony Wilmott, site director, explained that a typical day began with the students and volunteers watching TV.

He said: “Usually it starts with us all watching the BBC weather forecast and getting grim faces when they say it is going to be dry.”

The reason is that the temples are buried in clay soil, which becomes extremely hard when dry, making it difficult to dig through.

Dry weather also means every layer of the soil becomes the same colour, making it very difficult to see just where the team should be digging.

The site was discovered in the 19th century but was not excavated again until the beginning of the current partnership between the museum, university and the Hadrian’s Wall Trust.

Mr Wilmott said the most interesting moment came when he found evidence that the temple had been built with pillars in a ‘classical’ style.

Ian Haynes, professor of archaeology and leader of the project, explained: “The excitement for me comes in the work afterwards, rather than in the moment of discovery.”

Analysis of what is found helps to explain things like the dimensions of buildings and what it may have looked like.

He added: “You end up sitting in front of a computer saying ‘if you take that plus that plus that then bang!

“Something might look like a bit of charcoal but it may actually turn out to be a cremated sheep or boar bone, which then gives you evidence that they carried out particular slaughter rituals here.”

The temple is thought to have been the most northerly of its kind in the Roman Empire and built around 150 AD, with other evidence suggesting there was a Roman presence in the area until the empire fell almost 300 years later.

Artefacts found on the site have indicated that Jupiter was worshipped at the temple

The project is helping to shed new light on how the Romans lived in Maryport.

Prof Haynes is convinced of the dig’s benefits to investigating local history and to the area’s tourism economy.

He added: “We are bringing more people to visit this part of Cumbria.”

Around 10,000 people have visited the museum since the excavation started in 2011.

Rachel Newman, archaeologist and museum trustee, joked: “It is a little bit of Rome in the North West.”

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