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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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Fascinating trip back to Roman times in the pipeline for experts

MECHANICAL excavators have begun to further explore the Roman settlement unearthed near Penrith by workmen preparing the ground for a sewage pipe.

Archaeologists were called in by United Utilities when the firm began excavations for the seven-kilometre Hackthorpe-Penrith pipe.

It lies close to the site of the Brocavum Roman fort where Brougham Castle now stands.

Experts have declared that the site is of national significance.

This week, excavations continued revealing the settlement which has lain undisturbed for around 1,000 years just one metre beneath the grass.

The remains of two timber buildings, cobbled lanes, three stone buildings and a rare Grubenhauser – a sunken feature building from the early medieval period – have so far been uncovered.

According to Alison Plummer, dig leader from Oxford Archaeology, the fort would have attracted entrepreneurs seeking to relieve off-duty soldiers of their silver.

“The pipeline route is close to an existing Roman fort and graveyard, so we knew there was the chance of a significant find,” she said.

“Within days of removing the topsoil it was clear that we had hit upon something very important indeed.”

She added that the site has lain undisturbed up until now because it has been used purely for agriculture for centuries.

Artefacts found at the vicus, or civilian settlement, give hints about the Roman way of life.

Finds including copper-alloy buckles, brooches, jet and pewter buttons provide clues about how people wore and fastened their clothes.

Jewellery fragments such as jade beads and a Whitby jet pendant and ring have also been found.

Counters made from reused pottery and drinking vessels show how inhabitants of the vicus would have passed their leisure time.

“The discovery offers some enticing clues as to how our ancestors spent the cold Cumbrian evenings,” said Mrs Plummer.

It is also thought possible that some of the occupants worked the fields to the east and west of the fort. Wells, together with watering holes for livestock, have also been discovered in these fields.

The 18 archeologists on the dig are expected to continue excavations at the site for another four weeks.

United Utilities spokesman Melvin Dawson added: “The ancient Romans were pioneers in sanitation, so it’s perhaps fitting that this discovery was made during a sewage pipeline project.

“Our environmental policy means that we are committed to funding archaeological digs of this kind when important discoveries are made during our construction schemes.”

An exhibition of finds from the site will be held at Brougham Hall today and Saturday, between 10am and 4pm. A local re-enactment society will provide ‘centurions’ to guard the treasures.

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