From Tuesday 3 May, Trent and Peak Archaeology are opening up the trenches for members of the public to get involved and try their hand at excavating Roman Derby for themselves.
As part of preparation work for the construction of new flood defences a number of trenches have been excavated and so far, have uncovered numerous artefacts from the Roman age fort of Derventio and civilian settlement of Vicus along with some slightly more recent post-mediaeval finds.
The Big Dig that runs from Tuesday 3 May to Friday 27 of May is a chance for the Derby community to get hands (or trowel) on with the Roman heritage of the city, learn some new skills and make friends along the way! The dig site will centre on the Roman road of Rykneld Street that lies under Darley Playing fields, and in Roman times would have been an important trade and travel route.
To get involved and volunteer you can email TPA.Volunteering@yorkat.co.uk . Please note that you cannot turn-up, you must sign-up by emailing to take part due to Health and Safety requirements.
Before works began earlier this year in Little Chester, many people believed that the civilian settlement of Vicus was an organic structure that sat to the East of the fort and grew randomly as more people arrived and settled in the area. So, it was more like a campsite juxtaposed with the rigid and formal structure of the Derventio Military fort.
So what has been found that might change those ideas?
It’s well known that Romans had a talent for all things straight, narrow and ordered. Particularly their roads, including Rykneld Road (hopefully more will be found in the Big Dig later this year).
In the last few weeks, trenches in the Vicus area have thrown up a large number of interesting artefacts and structures that tell a very different story of civilian life. A number of surfaces have been exposed that appear to be roads or paths and trend directly East-West or North-South. So, this points to Vicus being a well-developed settlement and planning had been used to make sure that civilian life reflected military life and Roman culture in general. The pictures at the bottom of this blog will help to illustrate this.
As for Derventio – it may have been more than a military stronghold. Artefacts are indicating to us that it was a strategic point for trade and taxes. As goods were moved North or South along Rykneld Road or the river, traders could have been stopped at the fort to ensure they had paid their taxes or to trade with locals.
All of this indicates to us that an urbanised community was present in Derby as early as the 2nd century AD and although seemingly tiny compared to modern day Derby – it would have been a significant settlement.
I’m sure by now that many of you are aware of the Archaeology works currently taking place in Little Chester on the playing fields. So, what are these trenches all about? The Roman Fort of Derventio is listed by Historic England as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which means it has significant value as a heritage asset. Due to the construction of the new flood defencesHistoric England have said that the area where the defences are being built must be cleared of artefacts and protected to preserve the archaeology.
What do we know so far? Previous excavations uncovered a number of Roman age remains including the military fort – Deventioand the Hypocaust beneath Parkers Piece a few hundred metres to the South. There were also indications of a civilian settlement to the East of the Fort, known as Vicus. Prior to this it is thought that a number of local tribes would have lived in the area.
It is hoped that the current excavations (the most extensive to date) will allow Archaeologists to paint a fuller picture of Roman life in Derby and will ensure that the ancient monument is protected. Already, finds are indicating the intricacies of military and civilian life including what was on the dinner menu and games that would have been played in leisure time.
What more exciting news can we expect? Over the coming months there will be a number of guest authors updating us on finds and what we can interpret about the Derby Romans and their lives.
The good news is, if this has piqued your interest there are some great ways to get involved and help uncover our Roman heritage. In May this year there will a big community dig on the Darley playing fields open to anyone with an interest – historian or not, all are welcome! There will also be a number of public information sessions that you can attend and bring your questions along.