Roman discoveries in Llanwern

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A complex of Roman buildings has been uncovered on a slope overlooking the Gwent Levels at Llanwern, near Newport in South Wales.

Three archaeologists excavating within the remains of the stone walls of the rectangular building
The Roman complex’s rectangular building had multiple rooms, one of which contained a rare example of a mosaic floor. [Image: ©Cotswold Archaeology]

Excavations by Cotswold Archaeology, working on behalf of Redrow, identified evidence of occupation on the site that appears to date from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD, although small quantities of pottery have been recovered which may predate the Roman conquest of the area.

The complex comprised four structures with stone foundations – an apsed building, a larger rectangular building, and two circular buildings – all terraced slightly into the slope. Excavations also revealed the presence of at least three further post-built structures, two apparently housing a drying kiln, and an area of potential metal-working.

The function of the apsed building is unclear, although a single inhumation burial and a single cremation burial appear to have been made within it, suggesting that it may have functioned as a mausoleum. Two other cremation burials were also found elsewhere on the site.

The rectangular structure appears to contain three rooms, accessed by a long corridor. The stone walls excavated were unmortared, suggesting that these may have been built to support a half-timbered superstructure. The presence of a small number of ceramic tile fragments indicate that it may have had a tiled roof. Interestingly, at least one of the tile fragments recovered bears the stamp of Legio II Augusta, which was stationed for a while at nearby Caerleon, suggesting a possible connection between the sites.

The western room of the rectangular building contained the remains of a mosaic floor, dated on stylistic grounds to the 4th century AD, though unfortunately, only elements of the plain tessellated surround and fragments of the polychrome border survived in situ.

A well-made Roman road leads up the slope from the valley floor to the largest building, and a number of spring heads were recorded on the site, many of which fed a complex water-management system of stone-lined culverts, which took water downslope, through the main building and beyond. Several metalwork items were also recovered from the site, predominantly coins and brooches, including a few items which may have been votive objects, raising the possibility that the springs may have been the focus of some ritual or religious activity.

Text by Nick Cooke

This news article appears in issue 361 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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