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Viewing website implies consent to set cookies on your computer. Full details Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group
Registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation Number 1155775
SWAAG Honorary President:
Tim Laurie FSA

Members' Short Reports

Including short summaries from regional groups and meetings

Report submitted by Peter Denison-Edson 28/10/10

New Light on the Roman North East   9 October 2010

Durham C. C. Archaeology Section and Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland

 7 short presentations on recent discoveries and developments.

 Native Settlement North of Hadrian’s Wall: Dr Nick Hodgson, Archaeological Projects manager, TWM Archaeology

Developer-funded archaeology has revolutionized the data-base and understanding of pre-Roman sites in the North-East and moved us on from George Jobey’s picture (1960s/1970s) of dominance of single small rectilinear enclosures (N.B. there is usually no standing stratigraphy on lowland sites, only features cut into the sub-soil survive).

General pattern is of early Iron Age unenclosed settlements of round houses, then rectilinear enclosures from around 200 BC e.g. at East and West Brunton and Blagden Park (East Brunton has a 16m round house, very large for the Iron Age. All three have specialist iron-working areas within the site).

But there is also a class of modest enclosed or unenclosed sites, not visible from the air, scattered between the bigger, more visible enclosed sites.

The Northumberland coastal plain lacks evidence of field systems.

Late Iron Age enclosures often occur in pairs or clusters, often only 10-15 minutes walk apart (perhaps with 25 people per settlement): does this suggest partible inheritance?

Spelt wheat was grown up to central Northumberland, emer wheat further north.

Does this all imply that the North and North East had a fairly dense population, which for the Romans meant TAXES?  

But there are very few Roman artefacts in the sites, and most finds predate the late 2nd century. Most settlements ended fairly early but were not replaced by Roman-type settlements. How did the people live? This contrasts with Co. Durham where there is 2nd century abandonment of Iron-Age style settlements and replacement by definitely Roman-type. One theory is that people moved to the vicus (civilian settlement) at forts i.e. there was a “drift” but most vici are very Roman, often Italianate, in style from the beginning so it is hard to see the native population just suddenly abandoning all their traditions and “buying a crate of Black-Burnished Ware and building a strip-house”.


The Social Archaeology of the Late Iron-Roman North East: Arthur Anderson, Doctoral Student, Durham University

The traditional view of the N.E. e.g. by Piggott and Wheeler was: pastoral and nomadic, no grain surplus N of the Humber, standardized settlement transition from unenclosed to palisaded to enclosures with banks and ditches, few high-status sites implying social inequality, and that anything “monumental” was a response to the Romans.

Recent research fills out this view. In material culture, there is plenty of variety in finds but little quantity (typically less than 0.1 sherds per square metre in excavations) compared with the South. Iron Age type finds disappear by the end of the 2nd century. But is this a difference in deposition rather than possession?

For the Roman period, there was a much larger population in small towns (Sedgefield or Faverdale near Darlington) than previously thought. But later Roman artefacts (3rd century) are absent from indigenous sites and vici appear abandoned by the late 3rd century (unlike Co. Durham where they continue). Could this absence partly be stratigraphic i.e later settlement layers are ploughed out?  


The Roman Forts of Co. Durham Re-assessed: David Mason, Durham County Archaeologist

At Piercebridge, there is now evidence of a bridge upstream from the Roman sites, possibly from 50BC-100AD i.e. a possible pre-Roman Iron Age bridge. The current fort is late 3rd century, while the earlier supposed Flavian fort has not been found but may have been on a hill south of the river. Piercebridge began as a civilian settlement North of the river, in the 2nd century, which implies a peaceful period.

At Binchester, the vicus was active to the end of the Roman period or later, quite unlike Northumbria or the Wall. In the 5th century, the Commanding Officer’s House was converted for metal working and butchery, and there are burials from the 6th-12th centuries. The first fort may have been 17 acres i.e very big, enough for half a legion. The site was abandoned from 120-150 i.e like many others during the building of Hadrian’s Wall then the Antonine Wall.


The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS); Frances McIntosh, PAS Finds Liaison Officer, Durham & Teeside

As of October 2010, 641,812 finds had been reported to the PAS, of which 175,147 were Roman including 138,066 coins. The North east has very few reports (numbered skewed by 619 from Piercebridge) compared to 11,000 plus from Yorkshire and Humberside.

For finds, especially for hoards it is important to assess whether these represent ritual destruction and/or votive activity: putting an end to the use of an object but it retains its intrinsic value as an offering.


Rethinking Coin Use and Loss in the Roman North: Philippa Walton, Doctoral Student, UCL and the British Museum.

In the past, coins have served antiquarian interest (rare and precious objects) or been used as a dating tool. NOW applied numismatics looks at coins’ economic and social role.

Walton has studied coin assemblages of 20+ at the parish level in the PAS data base to March 2008 (BUT there are now three times as many coins in the database as in March 2008). Her findings are:

Most finds in the NE are on military sites;

N and E Yorkshire are close to the average for S. England (lots of coin loss in Dating Periods 13-19  i.e. the late 3rd and 4th Cs, whereas Northumberland, Cumbria and Durham have more losses in the 1st and 2nd centuries and don’t much resemble each other.

Overall in Britain, coin loss N of the Fosse Way is greater in Periods 1-11 especially Period 10 (Severan), c.f. S of the Fosse Way periods 15-21 (3rd and 4th centuries).

Period 4 shows lots of silver denarii in the N c.f. bronze coins in the S.

Military provinces and sites have more high value coins than civilian sites.

N. Britain used the denarius as the accounting unit in the 1st century c.f the rest of the Empire using the sestertius/dupondius/as.

Native populations e.g. in Germany and Scotland liked silver.

Coin loss decreased in the 4th century from high levels at the start, and moves its focus to S of the Fosse Way and away from the coasts.

The North British economy never really monetized away from the forts and vicii.

In 330-348 barbarous radiates are in the majority in Britain, and are mainly a British phenomenon but are rare in N Britain.


Christianity and the End of the Roman North: Dr David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology, Durham University

Did the Church provide continuity especially for British kingdoms in the N and through transmission to Ireland and Scotland?

There is no pre-Constantinian (i.e. pre-306) Christian archaeology in Britain.

The Council of Arles in 314 had 3 bishops and 2 priests from Britain.

Most 4th century Christian archaeology is in the S, whereas the N has mainly early-to-mid 5th century although the Traprain Law silver hoard includes 4th  C Christian artefacts.

An “opposed peacock” belt buckle (felt to be Christian imagery) was found at Stanwick.

Basilica-style churches are claimed for South Shields, Housesteads and Vindolanda but the style is easy to confuse with secular buildings.

There is a revival in funerary inscriptions in the 4th C, where Maryport, Brougham and Old Carlisle have probable Christian funerary stones.

By the 5th and 6th Cs there are clearly Christian stones e.g. at Whithorn (the Latinus stone and Petrus stones) with Latinate epigraphy. They are concentrated in Galloway (influences seem to be late antique mainland Europe with Mediterranean-influenced artwork) and Selkirk/Ettrick (little artwork, mainly writing, often in minor river valleys rather then Christian sites).

Later, Eddius records that Wilfred was given land “belonging to British churches” which might suggest that they still exist in his time.

Christianity offered a way of expressing links with Rome without being Roman (e.g. the Aksumite Empire in Ethiopia converted in the 4th century).

NB there are very few PAGAN temples in the N.


The North east in AD 410: is this the end?: Dr Robert Collins, PAS Finds Liaison Officer, Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyne&Wear

The NE has relatively little 4th century Roman evidence outside the forts: among what we have, there are fewer brooches etc. than earlier.

5th century dating is difficult because there are no new coins or pottery styles.

In the 4th century most soldiers would have been locally-recruited and supplies were acquired locally (e.g. in pottery Crambeck and Huntcliffe ware).

The Dux Brittanorum was probably York-based and commanded the limitanei (border guards) but travelled.

Most frontier forts in the 4th century retained essentially their Hadrianic style/plan which makes them archaic compared to newer styles elsewhere in the Empire.

That said, there are clear signs of 4th C activity in some forts: the Commanding Officer’s House at South Shields was rebuilt on a grand scale (later reduced) as was that at Vindolanda in the late 4th C at the same time as changes in the principia and demolition or conversion of the granaries.

We now ALWAYS expect to find 5th century material on fort sites, implying continuity, and Binchester has large scale activity right at its heart.