A highly unusual Roman building complex has been unearthed in Scarborough in North Yorkshire. The discovery was made by MAP Archaeological Practice during excavations in advance of a housing development led by Keepmoat Homes.
Work began on the site back in November 2019 after some trial trenching revealed the likely remains of an Iron Age/Romano-British settlement. After a six-month delay due to COVID-19, the team was able to get back on site in September of last year, and since then they have been able to reveal some amazing features of this puzzling site, which stretches over an impressive 1.2ha.
While details are still emerging as excavation continues, it appears that this is a multi-phase site which was probably abandoned during the 4th century AD. There is strong evidence so far for the site having been used as early as the 2nd century AD, but some finds hint that this settlement might stretch back even further into the Iron Age.
The phasing has not yet been definitively determined, but it appears that there were at least three phases to the site. It is thought that, earlier in its tenure, the complex covered a much larger area, which over the centuries was extensively remodelled and condensed on to a smaller footprint (although it is unknown if these earlier buildings continued to be used during later phases of the site).
During the final phase an unusual building complex appears to have been constructed, which may have been remodelled from an earlier structure. The complex features a wide trackway into a large courtyard and a main building with a circular central room and at least three rectangular ancillary rooms leading off it. A small amount of painted wall plaster, as well as the remains of a hypocaust, have also been found, but it is currently unknown whether this latter feature had ever been fired – leaving the question open as to whether this complex saw extensive use, at least in its later stages. The purpose of the building is currently unknown but the layout is distinctive, appearing to have been expertly constructed using the latest Roman techniques of the time. Current theories suggest that it could be a villa or
possibly a religious sanctuary, but it probably will not be until post-excavation analysis is complete that a more definitive idea of the site’s use will be determined.
Intriguingly, very few examples of material culture have been found so far, possibly indicating that items were removed on purpose during the abandonment of the site. There is also evidence to suggest some robbing of the site during its final phase. Time will tell if this lack of artefacts continues as the team begins to excavate the earlier layers.
Given the unusual nature of this complex, Historic England has made the decision to protect the site as a scheduled monument of national importance. The enigmatic later-phase complex will be preserved in situ as excavations continue on the rest of the site.
Watch this space for more news as work continues on the intriguing site and new findings emerge.
TEXT: K Krakowka.