For the last of our archaeological blogs, we’re looking at what the results of the excavations might mean in terms of what was happening here in the past.
In broad terms, the results from the trenches that were dug can be summarised as follows. At the base (at a depth of from 1m to 1.4m below the surface), there was the ‘natural’ – this is the layer of undisturbed soil or bedrock that shows no human activity. Working upwards, there was then a pre-Roman soil layer (undated), followed by a series of Roman period deposits (comprising irregular broken layers of clay with gravel and sand) which was overlain by a layer of post-medieval cultivation soil. Finally at the top, there was a surface layer of brick, hardcore and tarmac, related to the site’s use as a school and archive.
Within the three trenches there were a number of features. Trench 2 contained a large Roman ditch (running north-south) that was backed onto by a number of quarry pits (possibly representing sand and gravel extraction). A similar ditch was in Trench 1 but here there was also a compacted gravel surface, interpreted as a possible yard surface or track way. The only features in Trench 3 were two undated pits which cut into the pre-Roman soil layer and which were tentatively interpreted as post holes. Several post-medieval ditches were also present, although no evidence for Civil War activity or the Alvin Iron Works were found.
So, what might all this mean? During the Roman period, our site lay outside of the walls of Roman Gloucester and between two Roman roads leading into the city: London Road (which becomes Ermin Street and heads towards Cirencester) and Worcester Street (which led to the old Roman fort at Kingsholm). At this time it was not uncommon for extra-mural settlements – known as ‘Vicus’ settlements – to grow up outside of the town boundaries along roads serving the town. These places arose on an ad hoc basis to cater to the needs of the local population and they comprised inns, shops and workshops – rather like a cross between a modern out-of-town shopping centre and an industrial estate. The Roman ditches found in our trenches may well represent the rear boundaries of properties of the Vicus, with the pottery and animal bones recovered from them being evidence of day-to-day waste from these places.
The roof tiles that were found suggest some higher-status buildings existed in the vicinity or, potentially, that there was a Roman mausoleum or tomb close by. In Roman times it was forbidden to bury the dead inside towns, so cemeteries would appear on the roads leading out from them. The Romans often built quite elaborate monuments to bury their dead and – as is the case in Italy and Spain today – these often had walls around them topped by terracotta roof tiles. As for the possible post-holes in Trench 3, their nature is more enigmatic and they could have been from a building like a field lean-to or simply a fence.
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