Information Board 2 Copy

Outside Mancetter Roman Fortress

Archaeological investigation of this site did not begin until the early 1960s when a scout hut of timber construction was erected. At almost the same time a sewerage pumping system was constructed adjacent to the scout hut. Although a watching brief was maintained by the local historian, Mr H. M. Sale, there were no signs of concentrated archaeology.

Eighty metres north west of the scout hut, the trial ditches done in 1968 proved a line of first century ditches (Scott, K., Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, Vol. 85, pp.211-213). This line was thought to continue south through the grave yard to make up what was then considered to be the playing card plan of a fort. Apart from the occasional pot sherd being collected from grave digging in the adjacent cemetery to the west, very little evidence turned up in the vicinity.

In the 1990s, because of the poor state of the timber hut it was decided to build a more substantial building for the scouts, which gave the opportunity for two trial ditches to be dug first. These were hand-dug 2 x 1m, but proved abortive.

The line of the new structure was superimposed on the original which had already been landscaped. The greatest threat to any archaeology was in the region of the car park, where the average ground slope was about 1 in 10. To create a more gentle slope for the car park, retaining walls were erected on the high side next to the cemetery. Then the topsoil was reduced using a light excavator under archaeological supervision, and it soon became apparent that the area was archaeologically sensitive.

Excavation on the site by the Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society, under their director, Keith Scott, continued on a part-time basis from January 1993. In November 1995, feature 64, a well or shaft was discovered and in June 1996, feature 4, another well or shaft was bottomed. This one had been started in 1992, but stopped because of health and safety reasons.

Excavations at Mancetter are commemorated in a plaque erected by the Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society in Mill Lane in 1995. It is on the wall opposite the Scout Hall, and shows an outline of the fortress.

As the archaeology developed and the punic ditch was located, exploratory trenches proved the east entrance.

The entrance to the fortress

The Eastern Defences of the fortress lie to the west of the Scout Hall car park. These consisted of a turf and timber rampart with two ditches and, approximately 10.7m from the inner ditches, the treacherous punic ditch. This had a steep outer slope and a gentle inner slope making it almost impossible for retreating enemies to escape as they found it very easy to get into the ditch but very difficult to scale the steep slope on the outer side. Remains of earthworks can still be seen beyond the almshouses in the paddock to the north.

The punic ditch is interrupted by the Eastern Gate (a little to the north), which was also made difficult to penetrate by, what appears to be, an off-set entrance. This would have prevented an intruder from having a clear view into the fortress. The ditches were proved to continue down to the adjacent River Anker when the scout hut foundations were excavated.

Excavation in 1993

Roman Mill Lane plan 001 (2)

(Unpublished plan from Keith Scott’s papers)

Mancetter – Mill Lane, Scout Hut Car Park Scale 1:00 June 1992

Prior to the building of the scout hall, the Atherstone Archaeological and Historical Society, under their director, Keith Scott, found evidence of timber structures, pits, post holes, well/shafts, baked clay for ovens, latrine and ditches. One timber building is identified as being of a military type, which occupied a quarter of the excavation area. It probably extends a short length further north of the car park proposal. The outline can be seen from the features 28, 22, 55, 51, 49, 52 and 50, and shallow pit 48, and closet 21 with chute to latrine 20. Inside the building there is also a small curve of baked clay, possibly the remains of an oven. There are several other structural elements, 56, 45, 32, 44 and 27, that make very little sense mainly because they have been truncated by later features.

There is also a structure comprised of post holes but only the west end survives because the rest was removed when the site was levelled in the 1960s. Just to the north this same truncation removed some of the oven/hearth feature 7, which is in close relation to the loom weights which were found in a line, 1m to the west.

Pits seem to predominate in the south and their use seems to be for rubbish. The surprising ones are features 2 and 64 (not shown), looking very much like wells. Both are 1.1 x 0.7m, excavated to 3.5 and 3.2m and not bottomed because of the water table. A late Celtic gold coin was found at feature 2, and salvaged from the bottom were the skeletons of four dogs, but although a fair collection of bones was recovered it is strange that no skulls were found.

A third well, feature 4, was partly excavated in 1992, but collapsed at 1.4 m depth. This feature was so much larger than the others at approximately 1.4m sq., having three structural side elements that may have been for construction or later use. Another element which entered the well on the west side may have been a drainage channel. In 1996 when the car park levels had been reduced the feature was bottomed, though not without difficulty because of the water table. However, this in turn helped with the conservation of wood planks, a bowl, leather and environmental material. A fourth well appeared during the foundation excavations on the south corner of the new building. It was similar to the others with much organic rubbish and timbers at depth.

The area north of the main excavation became interesting when the punic ditch 46F had been proved by three slit trenches. The most northerly one shows definite tapering and termination at 53F/54F (off above plan). It the ditches were to end then an entrance was to be suspected, this was proved in trench T3 (trenches all off plan) where a hard subsoil with shallow ruts is suggested to curve south away from the ditches proved in T3, T2, and T5. The pair of ditches proved here at 60F and 61F (off plan) have very little choice but to join up with the ditches proved in 1968 and to give an unusual defensive line to the eastern gate at the River Anker. A trial trench was extended for another 30 m north of T2 outer ditch but no further evidence recovered.

The line of these new east-west ditches was confirmed to run diagonally through the foundation trenches which were heavily waterlogged, making recording impossible.

A report on this site is awaited, but the finds indicate that the building was erected early in the Roman period, probably before the fort itself. (From the unpublished notes of Keith Scott.)

Finds

Samian ware

150 Samian vessels were found, all but three were made at the South Gaulish factory of La Graufesenque. Of the rest, two are also South Gaulish ware, from Montans, and the other is first-century Lezoux ware.

The two Montans pieces are part of a growing collection found at Mancetter, and unparalleled elsewhere in Britain, except London, which as a major port and centre of distribution is not a comparable site. As the material is scarce in Britain, the homogeneity of the Mancetter group suggests that it came from a single consignment. Another piece of note is a Central Gaulish sherd, with orange fabric and glaze, which is almost certainly first-century Lezoux ware. This is rare in the Midlands, though another example was found in Mancetter in 1981.

From the style of the decorated bowls and the potters’ stamps, Samian appears to have been well-established in Mancetter by the mid-50s. There is very little dating from AD69 and beyond, though one bowl found on the site is unlikely to be earlier than AD70. (From an unpublished report by Brenda Dickinson).

 

Fine wares

The sherds fall into two groups. Many are ‘local’ imitations of imported fine ware vessels. The remainder are genuine imports, mostly from Lyon.

The items represented by the finds at Mill Lane are mostly beakers and cups in cream or buff fabric. The rim of one cup was in a dark grey fabric, possibly imitating an Italian rather than a Lyon cup.

The round base in fine white ware of a balsamarium (a flask used to contain oil or perfume) was only the second such item found at Mancetter. (From the report by Kevin Greene)

 

Picture lamps

Roman Picture Lamp Mill Lane 001 (2)

One shows (above) approximately half the lamp picture surviving, of Cupid riding dolphins. At the time of finding this lamp, the figure type was unparalleled, as Cupid is usually shown with a single dolphin.

Two other small sherds of lamps were found, one showing the lower portion of legs and feet, the other with the rear end of a zoomorphic form. Lamps found at Mancetter are in a pale fabric, probably the product of Lyons. (Information from Donald Bailey, British Museum)

 

Brooches

One Colchester type (c. 1st century)

Three Colchester derivative (all 1st century)

Roman brooch Mill Lane 002 (2)

One of the Aucissa-Hod Hill type (above), in bronze and dated no later than c.AD70

One Pannonian in bronze (between AD 50 and 61). Uncommon in Britain, the distribution is almost completely unlike that of the Aucissa and Hod Hill type. Although strong in the South-East, it is also well represented in East Anglia, but rather thinly scattered over the rest of England. (From an unpublished report by D.F. Macreth)

 

Copper Alloys

Bronze sheet (14 x 4. 0.5 cms) has three holes from an attachment using nails

A ‘Y’ form decoration, has semi-circular section of 2 mm, and has been attached to another object using a bronze nail

A typical ‘D’ type buckle.

Pair of dagger frogs and belt plate with open work portion triangular with rectangular notch and flared pointed shoulders. The motifs on the belt plate are characteristic of upper German neillo-inlaid plates. Though corroded, the rivets show a pair of decorated faces.

Portion of a baldric clip

Decorative stud/washer

 

Ironwork

Heavy duty eyed hook

Fractured iron chain link with part of a securing device

Rectangular washer for packing

Knife

Piece of lorica segmentata (armour)

Piece used as binding

Socketed spearhead

Carpenter’s tools

Hook attachment off a cart

Piece of heavy equipment, 17 x 9 x 1 cms, 1.7 kgs. Holes have been formed a the corners in which nails are in position. A central round hole 1.5 cms possibly held a bearing.

 

Miscellaneous finds

Tin, bronze alloy mirror fragments

Gaming counters

Glass beads

 

Glass

Various pieces of Roman glass were recovered, some from pillar vessels, bottles and also gaming counters. However, as yet no report is available and details are therefore limited.

 

Coins

Over thirty Roman coins were found at Mill Lane. Most were from the reign of Claudius (AD41-54). One was a late Celtic gold coin of AD10-61).

 

Stone

Several pieces of stone were found at the bottom of one well/shaft. They appear to have been associated with the grinding of cereal. (From an unpublished report by Alan Cook)

 

Leather and wood

Two fragments of sheet leather of worn goatskin were found in a well/shaft. They were dated to AD 50-70 and thought to have come from a tent panel.

Found in the same context as the leather was a wooden bowl, preserved by the water. It was identified as being made from an elder tree. With it were two wooden planks, which may have been from a work surface as they bore marks which could have come from a chisel and a punch. (A hollow punch was part of a leather worker’s tool kit.) One theory is that the leather and the planks may have come from a workshop refurbishing military equipment such as tents, shields and saddlery. (From an unpublished report of Quita Mould)

 

Loom weights

The five pyramidal ceramic objects found on the eastern limits of the excavation are rare in Britain. There is no surviving evidence for an upright weaving loom and this has made these objects difficult to identify definitively as loom weights. (A sixth was found later.) (See Brian Best and Martin Wilson,‘The Mancetter Loom Weights: a discussion by the late Bunny Best’, Coventry and District Archaeological Society, Commemorative Issue, September 2012.)

The curious juxtaposition and arrangement of many of the objects found at Mill Lane, such as headless dogs, bones of a pony arranged in a cross and encircled by pebbles, has led some to ask whether the pits are a sign of ritual depositions. Even the order of the rare loom weights in a straight line could have been part ritualistic. Such practices have been known elsewhere in Britain and identified as connected with Romano-Celtic religion. Some pits were dug as latrines and for rubbish disposal, but the contents of others do not concur with that. Some pits-cum-shafts could have been dug for the sole purpose of ritual deposition and, as is evident at Mill Lane, infilled rapidly, perhaps after a feast. However, this line of interpretation has been condemned by some influential figures within the archaeological community. (For a discussion on the subject see Martin Wilson, ‘Mancetter Diary: Religious Rubbish’, Coventry and District Archaeological Society, No. 465, March/April 2012)

Sources:

Historic Environment Record for Warwickshire ( www.warwickshire.gov.uk/timetrail)

(Formerly known as the Sites and Monuments Record. References are included in the text as a number preceded by ‘MWA.’

Historic Environment Record for Leicestershire and Rutland (Leicestershire CC HNET)

Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society Transactions, 1981, Volume 91 (1984), 1998, Volume 102, 2008, Vol. 112.

Baddeley, Colin, Roman Mancetter (Atherstone Civic Society, 2013)

Unpublished excavation notes of Keith Scott, Atherstone Archaeological & Historical Soc..

Webster, Graham, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD60 (London, 1993)