Early Roman settlement found in East Yorkshire

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Hundreds of pottery sherds were discovered during the dig, including from decorated bowls and amphorae. (IMAGE: DigVentures)

One of Yorkshire’s earliest high-status Roman settlements may have been discovered. While many Roman 3rd- and 4th-century sites have been found in the area, this is one of only a handful found from the earliest roman settlers in Britain.

The East Yorkshire site was first brought to the attention of archaeologists in 2015, when three metal-detectorists found a hoard of 18 roman silver coins and reported it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

To learn more about the site, a two-week excavation was carried out by archaeologists from DigVentures – a crowdfunded business promoting public engagement in archaeological research – with the help of hundreds of crowdfunders.

The team revealed a plethora of evidence from the settlement, including post-holes, foundation trenches, and stone walls attesting to the habitation of this site, and clues to the presence of one or two villas in the area. A number of tesserae recovered indicates that these may have been decorated with mosaic floors, hinting at the possible wealth of some of the settlement’s inhabitants.

In addition to the mosaic tiles, hundreds of pottery sherds were discovered, including from decorated bowls and amphorae – which may have been used to transport olive oil and wine imported from the Mediterranean. Among them were Samian ware and Roman greyware. Some of the most convincing evidence to suggest that this may be one of the earliest Roman settlements in Britain, though, was the discovery of a number of silver coins (in addition to those discovered in 2015) dating to the time of the emperor Vespasian (r.AD 69-79), who ruled during the time when the Romans first marched north and established a centre at York.

In addition to the material evidence, the remains of three small new-born babies were discovered, each carefully buried in their own grave. One of these graves also contained a tiny brooch, which may have been used to pin together an infant’s cloak. Burying infants close to home was a common practice in the roman period, even though adult graves were strictly limited to areas outside settlements.

While the excavations at the site are now concluded, post-excavation analysis of the finds is just beginning. More information about DigVentures can be found at https://digventures.com/.

This article appeared in CA 345.

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