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IC Newcastle

Dig unearths a settlement for rich Romans
October 5th, 2002

By Tony Henderson, The Journal

A picture of a well-off and cosmopolitan civilian settlement outside the gates of a Roman fort overlooking the mouth of the Tyne is starting to emerge.
A dig has just ended in the grounds of Hadrian Junior School opposite Arbeia fort in South Shields.
The remains of the civilian area, or vicus, remain in a remarkable state of preservation two metres below ground level - deep enough to have escaped damage by ploughing or the building of Victorian houses.
The dig centred on a cobbled courtyard around a stone-lined well and produced large amounts of pottery, bronze and silver coins, and other items.
They include a bronze brooch decorated with panels of blue enamel with white dots in each corner, and a polished gemstone from a signet ring which bears the image of a stork.
The stork is holding a small animal in its beak and research has shown that this portrayal was acted as a good luck token.

In 1993, development work gave archaeologists the chance to examine part of the cemetery attached to the settlement and the school dig has added to the fund of knowledge.
"We had a tremendous amount of pottery and small finds from what was a muddy courtyard and well, which was probably a busily-used area," said archaeologist Margaret Snape.
One of the pots found in the courtyard, which dates from the middle of the Second Century, was decorated with a human face.
"We have evidence of quite exotic imported goods, including a marble-like stone which would have been used in quite an elaborate building," said Margaret.
"It seems to emphasise the wealth and cosmopolitan nature of what was a very extensive vicus."

The settlement would have grown up to take advantage of the trade coming through a gateway fort at the river mouth and of that generated by the garrison itself.
But the mystery facing archaeologists is that by the late Third Century it appears that the civilian settlement is no more and the land is cultivated as fields or allotments, presumably by the garrison.
This is a pattern which is repeated at other forts along Hadrian's Wall, said Margaret.

* An exhibition of finds from the dig will run at the fort from today until October 26.

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