Some really exciting archaeological finds from Ancient Roman times have been announced today. I feel like dancing up and down with delight. But that would make blogging rather difficult, so I’ll stay at my desk long enough to tell you about them.
Archaeologists have found remains of a village, or vicus, outside a Roman fort, at Healam Bridge in North Yorkshire. All forts that were occupied for any length of time soon acquired a civilian settlement around them, where craftsmen, traders, and military suppliers provided the garrison with anything they wanted from new boots to a good night out. Some became towns in their own right which survived long after their founding fort was abandoned.
The Healam Bridge fort has been known for some time, and was partly excavated in the 1990s. Archaeologists then were of the opinion that there’d be a vicus close by which could well be important, and now it’s been found.
Fort and village stand on the A1, formerly the Great North Road, which follows the route of the main Roman road east of the Pennines running from the south all the way up to the northern frontier. The Romans knew how to pick a good route for a road, and the only thing wrong with the A1 is that it can’t cope with today’s traffic and needs upgrading. In this sort of project the archaeologists always get a look-in first before the developers start work.
Among the buildings they’ve found is a water-powered flour mill, quite unusual in Roman times, when most grain-milling was done using animals or by hand. Other nearby buildings seem to have been used for butchering animals and brewing beer, and, one assumes – though the reports I’ve read haven’t mentioned it – baking as well. The objects unearthed from the ancient village include coins, pottery, brooches for fastening clothes together, and animal bones.
These are the details I’ve gleaned so far from today’s media coverage. I intend to find out more by contacting English Heritage and asking if I may talk to people involved in their dig.
Because – and this is the REALLY exciting bit for me – these finds may bear directly on the book I’m writing now, my fourth Aurelia Marcella mystery. Its main setting is another fort and vicus on the old north road, Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough.) And Healam Bridge is the very next fort up that road, only a few miles away. So the information about the village there will almost certainly be relevant to the village at Aldborough where Aurelia will stay.
How much of the newly investigated village was in existence at the turn of the first and centuries, when Aurelia visited Aldborough? Could Aldborough have had a water-mill too, or did the fort there get its flour from the Healam Bridge mill? Were any written materials, inscriptions or such, found that refer to Aldborough?
There’s one more thing that pleases me about today’s announcement, and it’s a personal one. I’ve been very slow in completing the fourth Aurelia book, due mostly to problems entirely unconnected with writing. I’ve been feeling guilty about not having the job done sooner. But my oh my, wouldn’t I have been sick if these wonderful new discoveries had hit the headlines after, not before, I’d finished my manuscript?
You can see more information, including a good video, at the link below. You have to sit through a bizarre commercial first, but stay with it, it’s worth it.