Monday, 1 July 2013

Roman shrine discovered at Rutland Water

I've just been reading the very interesting news that a new Roman shrine site has been discovered at Rutland Water, just to the south of Lincolnshire and so very close to my own patch.  Having an interest in local Romano-British religious practices, its great news to hear that a new site has been unearthed that will help us to better understand the nature of Romano-British belief in the region.

The site was uncovered by Northamptonshire Archaeology and consists of a circular stone building, 10.5m wide, related to an Iron Age farmstead.  The suggestion is that the shrine dates to between around AD100 and AD300, though the exact relationship between the farmstead and the shrine isn't clear from the reports I've seen so far.  I look forward to reading the full report to see what overlap and connection there might be between the two, and with other Roman activity in the area.

The format of the shrine building is also unclear.  A typical Romano-British temple site might be expected to have a central building - a cella - with a covered walkway around it.  This would then have a further surrounding courtyard - a temenos - all enclosed by a boundary wall or ditch.  Worshipers would make their offerings within the temenos, but would not be allowed to enter the cella, where the presiding deity's cult statue would reside.  At present, it is not clear what features, if any, surrounded this simple stone building, and where the finds were located in relation to it and other landscape features such as ditches or pits.

Finds from the site have included red and white painted plaster from the building's walls, more than 200 Roman coins, pottery jars, part of a small bronze figurine and deposits of lamb and cattle bones.  These finds are all representative of the types of objects and remains associated with temple sites and the ritual offering of animals.  It will be interesting to see if the statue fragment can be associated with any specific deity, as it may be the only clue to determining which divinity, classical Roman or local British / Celtic, was being honoured.

Perhaps the single most unusual aspect of the site was the discovery of the skeleton of a male of about 30 years of age, positioned in the centre of the shrine.  The reports I've seen lead to the assumption that the burial is contemporary with the life of the shrine.  Analysis of the skeleton, though it looks from the photographs to be in fairly poor condition, will be fascinating to see if a cause of death can be determined, or if any injuries are present.  The use of human sacrifice (willing or otherwise) is a distinctly Celtic practice rather than a Roman one, so if this burial relates to the 2nd or 3rd Centuries AD it could be a very interesting discovery indeed.

The finds from the excavation and a reconstruction of the building are currently on display at the Rutland Water Visitor Centre.  No prizes for guessing where I'm going this weekend!

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