Dig reveals new insight into 2nd century Roman planning and materials

Architecture and urban historians will be intrigued by the unearthing of Roman and medieval construction in Leicester. A team, lead by John Thomas and Mathew Morris of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, worked closely with contractors WinVic on two small areas of a site where student apartments are being built. Working there for four months, they discovered latrines, boundary walls and possibly a late 15th century cellar – readers may remember the unearthing of King Richard III’s remains (d.1485) in the city in 2012.

(Archaeologists excavate large areas of medieval and post-medieval pitting in the backyards of properties running along Southgates. Courtesy University of Leicester)

Deeper still lay evidence of Roman domestic life such as fine tableware, a copper spoon, game counters, a number of bone hairpins and other jewellery, and remains offering insight into the materials and design of the Roman town.

(Some of the Roman artefacts discovered during the excavation – fine Samian table wares, bone hairpins and a copper spoon. Courtesy University of Leicester)

The layouts of the streets they discovered don’t exist on any current plans.

(The remains of a Roman mosaic pavement is carefully uncovered. After the building was demolished, the pavement was broken down into one of the empty foundation trenches. Courtesy University of Leicester)

Mathew Morris told us that the original street grid was laid out in the early 2nd century AD. Then, when a new forum was built later on in the century, it was imposed on the existing grid. “This suggests that the municipal government of the Roman town must have physically altered the established street structure to accommodate the building.”

(Archaeologists painstakingly excavate the remains of a late Roman building. Part of a wall can be seen to the left whilst pieces of stone flooring survive to the right. Courtesy University of Leicester)

It seems urban planners were even less sensitive to the existing space and communities in Roman times. “Much of the Roman building construction is consistent with what we find on other sites in Leicester – substantial mortared stone walls built of local granite constructed on deep earth-bonded stone foundation,” says Morris.  With regard to other materials it seems the Romans would be very much on trend: “we are also finding evidence of timber-framed buildings.” Indeed, according to a report just released by the UK’s Structural Timber Association, timber frame housing is expected take up 27% of the market by 2017.

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