Jan Bartek – Icestech.info – Experts have described the recent archaeological find in Hertfordshire, the UK as a ‘once in a lifetime discovery’. Archaeologists working at the site are currently busy examining all the Roman-era artifacts and bodies. Based on the descriptions so far scientists say this place was like a Roman “service station”, and a large number of artifacts suggest the area was once a thriving commercial center.
Credit: Pen News
Scientists unearthed the ancient Roman “service station” on the site of a planned football pitch at Grange Paddocks leisure center in Bishop’s Stortford.
Like a modern motorway service station, the site comprised several units and would have had everything the weary ancient traveler needed.
According to archaeologists, this may have included an inn providing refreshments, a blacksmith, and a temple to cater for travelers’ religious needs.
Ancient Roman coins were found at the site. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
“It’s quite like a service,’ said project manager Andrew Greef, from Oxford Archaeology, which has been excavating the site.
“You’d have been able to stop. Everything would have been available for you at the roadside.
Artifacts discovered at the site include Roman coins dating back to the reign of Nero, as well as metal items, weighing scales, and pots for transporting goods,” the Daily Mail reports.
‘We’re getting a lot of evidence for trade and commerce going on on-site.
There’s some evidence of a military presence, including spearheads and a caltrop (pictured) – a metal device designed to always have a spike pointing upwards that’s been called the ‘Roman landmine’. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
I think you’re looking at some kind of stopover point or something associated with supply and trade, rather than just your average settlement,” Greef said.
The location of the first-century settlement means it would have been ideally placed to benefit from passing trade.
“We’re positioned almost halfway between Roman Colchester and St Albans.
Metal items including a brooch were also found at the site. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
So we’re on a major Roman route, Stane Street, and it’s just about a good day’s march from St Albans.
It’s also at a river crossing, which is a strategic location, and they would have been utilizing the River Stort for transporting goods and materials, so you’re essentially at a crossroads,” Greef explained.
In one of the ditches, scientists found oyster shells which suggest these were consumed and evidence of trade links with the coast dozens of miles away.
“While the site is thought to date back to the end of the first century, it also has an early Christian cemetery on its edge dating to the third or fourth century.
An early Christian cemetery on its edge dating to the third or fourth century was also unearthed at the site. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
The burial ground comprises some 100 graves – roughly half of which had intact skeletons – each positioned east to west in the belief that the deceased would face Christ during the second coming.
In all, more than 500 small finds have been unearthed on the site,” the Daily Mail reports.
“For such a small area, the sheer quantity of archaeology and the amount of finds is more what you’d find in an urban center like London really,” Greef said.
“It’s definitely significant, you don’t get very many opportunities to excavate roadside settlements along the lines of major routes.
Intact skeletons were found at the site. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
The usual reason is because they’ve become a later town. This one’s quite different in the way that the medieval settlement and crossing of the Stort are further south.
So these remains have been relatively undisturbed under paddocks – it’s possibly never been cultivated.
That’s what makes it unusual: the sheer wealth of material surviving and that it’s had very little later activity messing it around,” the archaeologist said.
Project officer Neal Mason, also from Oxford Archaeology, said it was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime discovery’.
He also added there is a possibility the site was mainly populated by foreigners, pointing to the Saxon style of the cellars by way of example. Mason added one should also consider the idea that the residents could have been Roman veterans who had been gifted land after completing their years of service.
There’s some evidence of a military presence too, including spearheads and a caltrop – a metal device designed to always have a spike pointing upwards that’s been called the ‘Roman landmine’.
“One thing that’s really intriguing is the amount of military-related objects and getting to the bottom of how this relates to how the army would’ve been using the site.
So that’s something we’re going to be looking at further in the post-excavation process,” Greef said.
Remains from an earlier cremation have also been found at the site, as well as substantial numbers of animal bones, indicating that livestock was kept there. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
The Daily Mail reports, “Oxford Archaeology was commissioned to document the site by East Herts District Council (EHDC), which is planning to install a new 3G artificial sports pitch there.
Like a modern motorway service station, the site would have had everything the weary ancient traveller needed. Pictured: the foundations of an ancient temple or shrine. Credit: Oxford Archaeology /Pen News
However, the Roman settlement appears to be bigger than the present excavations – with part of the temple or shrine beyond the footprint of the planned pitch.
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Remains from the cemetery which seems to date towards the end of the site’s occupation – will be cleaned, documented by an ossiologist, and ultimately stored in Bishop’s Stortford Museum.
Remains from an earlier cremation have also been found at the site, as well as substantial numbers of animal bones, indicating that livestock was kept there.
Councillor Eric Buckmaster from EHDC said: “This excavation reminds us all that we are not the first to tread this land.”
Written by Jan Bartek – Icestech.info Staff Writer