Newcastle University archaeologists, volunteers start Maryport Roman Temples excavation

17-6-2013 — / — A team of archaeologists and volunteers led by Newcastle University’s Professor Ian Haynes with site director Tony Wilmott, has started work in Maryport until 22 July.

This is the third year they have excavated at this important Roman site, commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust with in kind support from Newcastle University and the permission of the landowners the Hadrian’s Wall Trust.

The Temples project is the start of a new phase in the five year programme designed to learn more about the internationally famous altars which form the core of the Senhouse Roman Museum display.

Professor Ian Haynes said: “The last two years’ excavations focused on the area in which the altars were discovered in 1870.

“This year sees some further work at the 1870 site and the start of a three year project focusing on the place where, in 1880, local bank manager and amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson uncovered further altars and two possible temples.

“Photographs and other documents from the 1880s indicate that the antiquarian investigation only unearthed part of the site and it is clear that much remains to be discovered.

“The excavations have yielded some remarkable and surprising results over the last two years, and it’s exciting to be back this season.”

Rachel Newman of the Senhouse Museum Trust said: “We’re delighted to have Ian and Tony’s team back on site. As in previous years any finds from the excavation will be included in the museum’s collections, donated by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust as landowners, and will join finds discovered previously by Joseph Robinson.

“The team of archaeologists and students from Newcastle University is being supported by 28 local volunteers. Two archaeology students from Germany are also joining the dig this year, as part of an initiative to twin the Senhouse Roman Museum with a similar museum on the Roman frontier in Bavaria.”

Nigel Mills, director of world heritage and access for the Hadrian’s Wall Trust said: “This is a fantastic site, yielding very interesting information indeed.

“The excavations are an important step towards the establishment of a long-term programme of archaeological research at Maryport, which is a key element in the development of the proposed Roman Maryport heritage and visitor attraction being taken forward in partnership by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust and the Senhouse Museum Trust.

“There is a lot more to be discovered about life on the Roman frontier and Maryport will be a major part of that.”

The Roman fort and nearby civilian settlement at Maryport were a significant element of the coastal defences lining the north western boundary of the Roman Empire for more than 300 years. They are part of the transnational Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Geophysical surveys of the Maryport site commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust show that it was extremely complex and of considerable size, and that it is well preserved.

The 23 Roman altars dedicated to Jupiter and other Roman gods by the commanders of the Maryport fort provide information of international importance for the study of the Roman army and its religious practices. In some cases their career histories can be established from the inscriptions on the altars, tracing their movements across the Roman Empire as they moved from posting to posting.

In 2012 partial plans of buildings on the site were recovered showing at least two phases of construction and the first complete altar stone was unearthed at the site since 1870. The altar has the fifth inscription recovered from the Roman Empire to record T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison, and a man known to have served at other times in Austria, Hungary and Romania.

A late Roman/early Medieval cemetery was also discovered.  Finds from the graves were few but included a glass bead necklace, bracelet and loose beads, now on display in the museum, and a tiny fragment of ancient textile.  Radiocarbon dating of the textile shows that the wool from which it was woven was most probably sheared sometime between AD 240 and AD 340.

There will be lectures on 25 June and 22 July and an open day on 20 July.

The excavation will be open to visitors as part of a visit to the museum until Monday 22 July every day except Saturday and Sunday starting at 2pm and 3.30pm.  All public access will be by guided walks to the site led by the museum’s volunteer guides followed by a tour of the excavation led by one of the site supervisors.

Schools and other organised groups should contact the museum in advance to arrange a visit on 01900 816168 or email

The Senhouse Roman Museum will be open every day 10am to 5pm. Adult £3, child £1, family £8.

Press release courtesy of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage

Pictured: Professor Ian Haynes

Pictured: Professor Ian Haynes

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