Romans in Wales

Wow … the archaeologist types in Wales keep coming up with discoveries. In the past week, I’ve read of three major finds … typically, things from Wales don’t seem to make it beyond the local papers, but the first two items are a bit different. Here’s the Telegraph coverage about a Roman villa find in Aberystwyth:

Archaeologists have discovered a 4th Century villa near Aberystwyth, the first time they have found evidence of Roman occupation of North and mid Wales.

Findings indicate Abermagwr had all the trappings of villas found further south, including a slate roof and glazed windows.

The villa is likely to have belonged to a wealthy landowner, with pottery and coin finds on the site indicating occupation in the late 3rd and early 4th Centuries AD.

It was roofed with local slates, which were cut for a pentagonal roof. The walls were built of local stone and there was a cobbled yard.

Roman villas were high-status homes of wealthy landowners which sat at the heart of a farming estate. They are common throughout southern England and south Wales, but rare in mid and west Wales.

It was thought that Wales was a “military zone”, abandoned by the Romans a few decades after the first century.

Dr Toby Driver, of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Dr Jeffrey Davies, formerly of Aberystwyth University, had previously excavated at the nearby Trawscoed Roman fort, which had been abandoned by AD 130.

“Our trial excavations this year have confirmed the remains of an imposing Romano-British building in the heart of mid-Wales, where no Roman villas were previously known” they said.

“The discovery raises significant new questions about the regional economy and society in late Roman Wales, and raises the possibility of future villa discoveries in the surrounding countryside”.

The BBC picked up a story about a lime kiln find during road construction:

The most significant find – a large lime kiln – was previously hidden under an earth mound.

The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust says the kiln, and slates from a building for high-ranking officials, indicate a large Roman settlement.

Building work began on the £34.4m bypass earlier this year.

Iwan Parry, from the trust, said the the presence of the roofing slates was documented after a dig in the area in the 1920s but the lime kiln was a complete surprise.

“We’re not certain of the dates yet because radio carbon dating has not been carried out, so this is really the beginning of the research we’ll have to carry out,” he said.

Mr Parry added the kiln was “huge” at round 4m (13ft) across and 2m (6ft) deep.

“They had cut into the stone – which would have been a lot of hard work – to create a bowl,” he said.

“The purpose of the kiln would then be to create the lime for cement,” he added.

As the land around the kiln had not been reclaimed from the sea at the time the Romans were around, the kiln would have been on a small island in the estuary, he said.

“The kiln is a surprise too because we did not think there was any lime locally in Tremadog.

“The nearest source we thought was on Anglesey – but there might have been a type of lime around here” he added.

The roofing slates – cut into a diamond with two sides squared off – were first thought to be from the Nantlle Valley near Caernarfon.

Similar slates were then found at a barracks in Chester however, and they came from Bethesda (near Bangor), he said.

Wherever they are from it is still a significant find as the slates are “one of the first examples of Welsh slates being used as roofing”, he added.

Excavation work on the bypass also revealed signs of human habitation in the area from 6,000 years ago.

“We found small bits of flint which they would have used,” said Mr Parry.

“The location, on an island, would have meant there was a plentiful supply of food there in Mesolithic and Neolithic times.”

Fulfilling the scholastic rule of three, and just hitting my email box a few moments ago (and so, still ‘local’), comes something from the Mail:

A ROMAN home or trading post is being excavated at Tai Cochion near the village of Brynsiencyn.

Gwynedd Archaeology Trust held an open day at the site and over 200 people visited to find out about the discoveries.

The location of the site – over the water from Segontium in Caernarfon – together with initial discoveries, suggests the settlement to be a trading post linking Anglesey with the mainland.

This is the first site of its kind to be found in North Wales and will help historians to understand the relationship between the Romans and the indigenous people.

The excavation is the subject of a programme which will be screened on S4C in November.

Trust staff and volunteers are trying to find some final clues as to the exact history of this site by finishing some detailed excavations and making vital recordings before the excavation is finished.

Dave Hopewell, senior archaeologist, said: “Over 15 volunteers have joined Gwynedd Archaeology Trust staff to excavate the Roman settlement in Brynsiencyn during the last three weeks. This excavation was made possible due to funding from CADW.

“A land survey undertaken last winter indicted there was a large settlement.

This excavation has supported this interpretation with a wide roman road, buildings, a boundary ditch and a rubbish pit being unearthed in the small excavated area.”

A large amount of pottery has been found including some made in France. This indicates the settlement was of high status.

The Trust has high hopes the origins of this piece of pottery can be traced to a specific location and time helping to date the settlement and perhaps learn more about what went on there. […]

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