Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Roman 'cockpit theatre' discovery and archaeology in the media

The internet today brought news of an interesting Roman discovery in Faversham, Kent. The Kent Archaeological Field School have discovered the remains, literally in their own back yard, of a Roman theatre.  What makes the discovery particularly unusual is that they believe that it is an example of a 'cockpit theatre', used for religious observations rather than (or perhaps as well as) theatrical performances.  The theatre seems to have been built into the hillside and had two other potential temples or shrines and a sacred spring close by, so may have formed part of a wider area of religious focus.  It could potentially hold 12,000 people.

Around 150 such cockpit theatres are apparently known from northern Europe (I say apparently as I'm trusting the media's figures here) but this is the first from Britain.  If the initial interpretation is confirmed, then it is potentially a very interesting discovery indeed, and may lead to the reinterpretation of other such sites across the country.  I have to say though that I'll wait to read more about the discovery in an academic journal before jumping to accept the current interpretation wholeheartedly - its easy to get carried away with such 'sacred sites' headlines and theatres in the Roman world are known to have used for a variety of public activities.

The story was mainly reported by the Daily Mail, and although I'm not a fan of their brand of scaremongering, they do have to be given some credit for their general highlighting of archaeological discoveries.  However, the content of their articles is, as always, to be taken with a pinch of salt.  One particularly funny aspect of this story is that the headline, which seems to have been picked up by other news agencies referred to the discovery of a 'Bronze Age Roman theatre'.  Now, the site did reveal traces of Bronze Age occupation, but surely it wasn't too hard for the journalist to realise that the Bronze Age and Roman Britain aren't the same thing?  Maybe this is just more proof that knowledge of the basics of British history, and prehistory in particular, really are lacking in our society.

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