2013 Excavation – Eastern Vicus Papcastle

During August, September and October 2013, Grampus Heritage and Training Ltd worked alongside Wardell Armstrong Archaeology and a team of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers to investigate the eastern extent of the Roman settlement at Papcastle in Cumbria. During this 6-week excavation, we extended one of the trenches  opened in the May evaluation which revealed the stone foundation of what we hoped would be a house in the vicus.

The main dig in 2013 was a great success and the results are a testament once again to the support given by local volunteers to the Discovering Derventio project. A team of 6 archaeologists worked alongside up to 20 volunteers each day to uncover the plan of a Roman strip house and associated structures. The layout of the building alongside the Roman road has strong similarities with the town of Cockermouth today which is based on the medieval burgage plot system. Immediately alonside the road we discovered a small building which can be interpreted as a small shop. A cobbled lane or yard leads from the main road and runs behind the shop and along the front (west side) of a Roman strip house. One room of the house contained a hearth. A well constructed stone drain was found to run down the eastern side of the house.

The Roman road was found to be very well constructed and revetted by substantial kerb stones. A small trench was opened to the west of the excavation area so that we could investigate a section of the road in detail. Here we found that later in the life of the road the roadside ditches had been backfilled and replaced with kerb stones on the road surface. We also found that the road here had a substantial southern ditch, which had been partially filled by a cobble foundation for a substantial wall. Could this be another roadside building?

The research in 2013 has established the extent of Roman settlement to the east of Papcastle and has demonstrated that the focus of activity at Derventio is not centred on the fort, as with other Roman vici in the region, but appears to focus on the River Derwent. This suggests a significant river crossing point to link the northern part of the settlement (and fort) with the ‘Broomlands’ area of activity on the south side of the river (2010 excavations). We will also investigate the possibility that the river may have been used for the transportation of supplies in the Roman period. Could part of the reason for the importance of the river to the settlement be the existence of an inland harbour at the foot of Sibby Brow?

The discovery and recording of a strip house in the settlement is an invaluable part of our research. We were not seeking grand structures to compete with the bathouses and mansio of the 2012. We were rather seeking to learn more about everyday life in Roman Papcastle. To investigate where a resident of Derventio lived, worked and perhaps died. The finds from the excavation have helped us to connect with the past and understand life in the vicus. These finds include pottery (awaiting post-excavation assessment), glass beads, gaming counters, a spindle whorl and a fragment of a small clay statue of the goddess venus.

Further reports, plans and updates will be posted here as post-excavation analysis of the finds is completed. We hope that the gallery below gives a flavour of our exciting summer of archaeology and may even encourage you to join our team and help us to discover more of Derventio’s secrets in the years to come.

The Eastern Vicus Report is available to download. This is the interim report as we are waiting for a couple of reports to be added.

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