During April/May 2014, OA North, on behalf of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, completed a second eight-week excavation season in the extramural settlement north-east of the Roman fort at Maryport, on the Cumbrian coast. The work was largely carried out by volunteers, with well over 100 people being involved across both excavation seasons. Additionally, the site was regularly visited by parties of local schoolchildren, who were given the opportunity to dig real Roman features, whilst site tours and open days also proved extremely popular.
In August/September 2013, a single building plot within the settlement was selected for investigation, and the latest Roman remains were excavated. These were largely associated with a stone ‘strip-building’ fronting the main road, though features in the ‘back-plot’ to the rear were also sampled. The building may have been constructed in the early third century AD, but had almost certainly gone by the end of the century. Its frontage may have been partly open to the street (or could be opened up), suggesting the possibility that its front room served as a shop. A heavy flagstone floor in one of the rear rooms might indicate its use as a workshop, but this is currently uncertain.
The data generated were rapidly assessed, in order to refine the strategy for the second season, and an interim report and updated project design were produced. In 2014, excavation was taken beneath the stone building, to reveal evidence of earlier occupation phases. One of the project’s principal research aims was to record the full sequence of activity within the building plot, and this was achieved by the end of May. The dig also sought to shed light on land-use within the back-plot, since such areas have seen very little excavation. To this end, the exploratory trench opened there in 2013 was considerably expanded.
On the street, two phases of timber structures pre-dating the stone building were found. The external walls of these buildings were in the same, or very similar, positions to those of the stone structure, suggesting that they may also have been strip-buildings. It was noteworthy that the boundaries between the excavated plot and those adjacent appear to have been carefully maintained throughout the settlement’s lifetime, with wall-lines shifting by only a few centimetres. Neither of the timber structures is yet dated, though the later phase may be of the mid-late second century AD. Establishing a chronology for the primary phase is of particular importance, since it could elucidate the date at which the Romans first established a ‘permanent’ military presence at Maryport.
Further investigation of the back-plot revealed numerous Roman features, a representative sample of which was excavated. Two deep, vertical-sided pits, partly excavated in 2013, were investigated further. One extended down over 3m below the modern surface, and was probably a well. The other, together with two similar pits found in 2014, were shallower, and bottomed well above the modern water table; it is possible these served as water cisterns.
The site yielded a large assemblage of pottery and numerous other artefacts, including several items of jewellery and ceramic spindle whorls, probably indicating the presence of women. Overwhelmingly, the finds are indicative of an essentially ‘civilian’ milieu, with overtly military equipment restricted to an iron spearhead and a fragment of chain mail. Maryport is, of course, famous for its internationally important collection of Roman altars, displayed on-site in the Senhouse Roman Museum, and no archaeological dig there would be complete without the discovery of another specimen. In the last week of the excavation, the Maryport Roman Settlement Project duly delivered, but unfortunately, the fragmentary altar recovered does not appear to have been inscribed.