New discoveries at historic Roman site

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News release: 12 April 2017

The map of the ancient Roman city of Verulamium will have to be redrawn after archaeologists made a series of surprising discoveries.

Simon West, District Archaeologist for St Albans City and District Council’s Museums’ Team (left) monitoring the work.
Essential work by the National Grid to re-lay a gas pipe gave the archaeologists a rare opportunity to look underground at this nationally significant archaeological site.

Where they once thought there was only a crossroads, they found compelling evidence for the town house of a wealthy person, which may have featured mosaic flooring.

An initial assessment of finds from above the floor suggests the building was demolished in the third century AD.

The team was also excited to find the corner of the city wall, but no evidence of a tower at this point, as previously expected. The absence of a corner tower is significant as may suggest that the city walls were built as much for show as for defensive purposes.

The archaeological recording work is being managed by Amec Foster Wheeler, on behalf of National Grid, and the excavation team is from AOC Archaeology Group. The work is being monitored by the St Albans Museums team and Historic England to ensure it complies with local policy and national legislation to protect the historic environment.

Simon West, District Archaeologist for St Albans City and District Council’s museums’ team, said: “As it turns out our map of the lay-out of Verulamium is not entirely accurate, so we may have to redraw it. We are learning new things all the time about our past.”

Verulamium was the third largest City in Roman Britain, and around half of it stood on the site of what is now Verulamium Park in St Albans.
Remains of the walls, defensive ditch and a Roman villa’s hypocaust, a sort of central heating system, can still be seen.

Verulamium Museum on the edge of the park contains a range of exhibits and was established following excavations carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s.

Items on display include coffins with skeletons, mosaic floors, coins, pottery, jewellery and cooking utensils.

Further major excavations were conducted by Sheppard Frere in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with later ones taking place under the current entrance to the museum.

Much of the Verulamium site, which is classed as a Scheduled Monument, has remained relatively undisturbed for centuries.

National Grid is replacing 1.5km of ageing gas mains with tough new pipes to safeguard safe and reliable gas supplies for decades to come. Several deep holes have been dug during the essential project, giving archaeologists a rare chance to examine what lies underground.

Simon said: “Two of the holes have produced significant archaeology which is very exciting. 

“One near the park’s running track has hit the very corner of the wall around the Roman city. There does not appear to be any evidence of a corner tower. 

“At another hole, close to the museum car park, we have found evidence of the interior of a Roman town house with the remains of what is called an Opus Signinum floor. That is one made up of broken tiles and mortar.

“There are further mosaic pieces in the back fill of the old gas pipe.”

Councillor Annie Brewster, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage, said: “This is another reminder that St Albans is a City with a rich, varied and compelling history.

“To find a previously unknown significant house near Verulamium Museum is a wonderful surprise. The 2.25 miles of city walls, enclosing the third largest Roman city behind Corinium (Cirencester) and Londinium (London), had some of the earliest towers, often built to display power and wealth. The lack of a corner tower would suggest some areas of the wall were more for show than defence.”

Councillor contact: 
Councillor Annie Brewster, Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage, St Albans City and District Council. Email: cllr.a.brewster@stalbans.gov.uk; Tel: 01438 832255 

Contact for the media: 
John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, St Albans City & District Council, Tel: 01727 296130, E-mail: john.mcjannet@stalbans.gov.uk

Note:
More information about Verulamium Museum in St Michael’s, St Albans is available on the St Albans Museums website.

Photo:
Simon West, District Archaeologist for St Albans City and District Council’s Museums’ Team (left) monitoring the work.