Ribchester Revisited, United Kingdom
Course ID: ARCH2055
12 June – 15 July
Dr Ash Lenton, Research Fellow, Australian National University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Field school director(s):
Dr Duncan Sayer, Senior Lecturer, University of Central Lancashire (email@example.com)
Dr James Morris, Lecturer, University of Central Lancashire (JMorris9@uclan.ac.uk)
The village of Ribchester – nestled in the heart of Lancashire's beautiful Ribble valley – has a long and important history. The village itself dates back to the Roman period when an auxiliary cavalry fort was established on the north bank of the river Ribble. It was made famous by the discovery of the Ribchester Helmet, and associated hoard, in the 18th century, one of only three helmets of this type found in Britain and today these objects can be seen in the British Museum. The fort, built in approximately AD 72-3 by members of the twentieth legion, was located on the main western road. The garrison at the fort would have overseen the foot and river traffic and maintained control of the surrounding area. It is often assumed that Roman forts were organized in a similar way, but Ribchester has an unusually large Vicus (the town just outside) and importantly was also a Veteranorum for retired solders (known as Bremetenacum Veteranorum). However, most of the archaeological field work that has been carried out in Ribchester was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with some focused excavation in the 1980s and a small project by Time Team in its first season in the early 1990s. This new project will revisit Ribchester through exploration of the archaeological archives and significant excavation, its primary objective to explore the evolving use of the interior of the fort and its changing relationship with the Vicus.
To that end in 2015 the team opened a large 30m by 10m trench just inside the fort’s north gate, opposite the granaries and where it is believed the barracks were located. The trench revealed the remains of a clay floored building, where the presence of a hearth, kiln fragments, slag, and glassworking refuse hint at a workshop. At the end of its life, the walls of this structure had been pulled down, scattering fragments of wall plaster across two roads: the Via Sagularis, which circumnavigates the interior of the fort, and the Via Principalis, leading to the center of the site. This demolition across two important roadways points to deliberate destruction, but not, to abandonment. Adjacent to these roads, a dark soil deposit yielded a wealth of evidence for activity within the fort, including lead weights, metalworking slag, and the majority of the 22 Roman coins found on the site this year. Among these were a number of later nummi – some of which were so small as to be nearly impossible to handle – while others represented well-worn examples from the House of Valentinian, minted in AD 364-378. The remains suggest the fort’s role had changed, but it was still in use at the end of the Roman period. All of these features will be excavated in 2015.
The Ribchester project is not just focused on Roman remains. The site is classified as a monment at risk by Historic England, and so this project is an important opportunity to engage with heritage in practice. Part of the reason Ribchester is at risk is the neglect that this important site has seen, and so a valuable aspect of this project includes outreach – students and project partners spend a great deal of time communicating with the local population and we expect hundreds of visitors with around 20 school visits. The 2015 season saw approximately 700 vistors to the excavation. The project is also scheduled to take place during the Roman festival (July), an important event in the local calendar when a replica camp is erected and actors dressed in Roman military equipment parade their skills for public consumption. In 2015 the project hosted activities as part of the festival that proved very popular, and there will be the opportunity for students to experience this side of community archaeology. At the same time as the excavation, other archaeological activities will feed into the academic and outreach project and in 2016 we hope to start surveying the historic houses of Ribchester to understand how much Roman stone was used in their construction.