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The fort was situated on the west coast of Cumbria and had been built high on the cliffs, overlooking the Solway Firth. It is believed that the complex was built in the first century, when the Roman army had just entered the region, during Hadrian's reign. Now an attempt is being made to reconstruct what ordinary life was like.
Experts say that the stone fortress was an integral part of the coastal defenses. From the civil settlement located northeast of the fort it is believed to be the largest known along the border of Hadrian's Wall. Geophysical studies have revealed that the settlement is divided into a series of parcels that stretched for about 420m in length. The various excavations at Maryport in previous years they had not revealed anything similar because they had been more limited and at more specific points.
The Roman Settlement Project, which is carried out in two eight-week field sessions, aims to deepen the initial investigations. Dr Nigel Mills, World Heritage Advisor said: “The work is very important, civil settlements are little known throughout the Roman Empire because the emphasis of research in the past has been on the Roman army. Understanding civil life gives us a more complete picture of the Roman world and of life in the border areas”.
In the 16th century, the then owner of the Senhouse Trust Museum, John Senhouse, began building the Netherhall Collection; a collection of inscriptions and sculptures that became the largest private collection of Roman antiquities in Britain. In 1870, 17 buried altars were found in the town, all dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter. Thought to be the largest find of Roman inscriptions ever made in Britain.
The altars provide evidence that three regiments were related to places as far away at the time as Germany or Spain. In the 1880s, archaeologist Joseph Robinson unearthed the remains of a rectangular-plan building with an adjacent circular structure and fragments of an altar. Later he discovered that they were the remains of a Roman temple from the 2nd century AD. Now, a group of archaeologists from the University of Newcastle wants to continue investigating the remains of the temple and find out if the round structure was a second temple.
Reservoir Director John Zant said: “Very few temples have been found in settlements of this type so we don't know much about them. We think it was probably built specifically for the garrison, but most likely very shortly afterwards it would have been used by the non-military community”.
Last fall they collected four plots to ditch and assess what was underneath. In one of the plots they found a roman building. The structure, which was about 20 meters long and 5 meters wide, is a stone building built sometime around 200 AD. Zant said that “it is good to have a Roman building to build an image of who was living there and who they were. We found some coin and pottery items indicating that the site was unoccupied for over half a century and that it was abandoned in the late Roman period. We are still not sure if the building would have been used, but we think it probably had a multifunctional purpose and one possibility is that the room was used as a store”.
Experts believe that the inhabitants would have been a mixture of local people and people from other parts of the Roman Empire, including retired Roman soldiers and those who were there to earn a living. The team is planning another eight weeks of excavation for April. "We hope that the excavation at Maryport will help us build a whole history of the life of the site, from its inception to its abandonment and its relationship with the fort"Said John Zant.
Some 90 volunteers participated in the excavation last year and it is hoped to increase community collaboration. "It is very important for us to reach out to the community involved in discovering your past. The more people who are involved in learning about local history, the more they can be proud of it and help protect it for future generations”Commented Dr. Mills.
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