While we’re talking Roman . . .

Catherine talking to Eileen Parker, one of the archaeologists on the project.
Catherine talking to Eileen Parker, one of the archaeologists on the project.

Catherine and I had a little road trip this week when we visited some excavations taking place in Derbyshire. First up was a visit to this year’s fieldwork at Castleton, where a team from Castleton Historical Society and students from the University of Sheffield have been busy uncovering more of the history of the village. Much of the work has been focussed on the search for the medieval hospital of St Mary in the Peak, thought to have been established in the late 12th century.

Part of the team at work in Spital Field.
Part of the team at work in Spital Field.

Spital Field has again been the site of much activity as the team were chasing further evidence of significant structures in the field. These were both the hospital and a possible corn-drying kiln from the middle ages. Beyond this, the team has been engaged in trying to establish the extent of the village in the medieval period, particularly around the time of the Norman arrival in the Peak District. There have been some really interesting discoveries that will be revealed in due course! So expect more news on this in the near future.

Our next port of call was the Our River, Our City project in Derby which was drawing to a close. This was a chance to catch up with the team of volunteers and professionals and the work they had been doing on the Roman fort and its surroundings. We were met and given a guided tour by Project Officer and Finds Specialist Kate Smart of Trent & Peak Archaeology. As might be expected, things have moved on since the last visit.

The trenches that had traced part of the vicus or civilian settlement to the east of the fort had been closed down and back-filled having served their purpose. Over at the fort itself the team had found a stone embankment on the northern edge. This seemed to replace an earlier earthen embankment but as yet it has been impossible to say how long it was before this happened. The first elements of the fort were established in 80AD as the Romans arrived in the area. Much of the activity in the vicus has been dated to the second century AD, so it it still unclear as to what was happening around the fort for quite a few years. This of course runs counter to the traditional picture of the Romans arriving and being welcomed by the locals. In many parts of Britain the ‘locals’ remained hostile to the Roman Empire and all it stood for, whilst in other areas they were indeed warmly welcomed. It seems that the fort of Derventio served at least two purposes, one was to regulate trade and tax collection locally, and the other was to be there ‘just in case’.

There was also a new trench, to the north of the fort and vicus that had been opened to establish the course of the road leading north past the fort at Strutt’s Park and on to Templeborough. The road, known as Ryknield Street was one of the major routes established by the Romans to aid both trade and troop movements around Britain. The road was exactly where it was thought to be and close to it were a number of features such as postholes. Exactly what these were for, apart from holding a post, is unclear and it remains to be seen as to how these fit into the picture.

As this phase of the project draws to a close today, we must say how impressed we were with the work of the volunteers. Laura Binns who was supervising on the trench was also full of praise for the work they had done, so take a bow team, you’ve earned it! Below we have a gallery of some images from our visit which you might like.

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We also hope you notice the number of women archaeologists working in the field. Archaeology is one of those professions where women can compete on an equal footing with men, and yet we still see calls for increasing the presence or profile of women in archaeology. Just this week in an article in The Guardian, Raksha Dave wrote of the need to make archaeology more diverse – in the field! Despite lecture theatres and classrooms becoming increasingly diverse over the past few years, it remains the case that out there in the field you are more likely to be male and white. As a discipline, archaeology is only now getting to grips with this issues, as elsewhere – in museums for example – a more diverse workforce can be seen. There is every chance that the schoolgirl with an interest in the past can become an archaeologist and have a great career. We just have to level the playing field.

 

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