Uncovering Roman Carlisle – A Community Archaeological Investigation
Uncovering Roman Carlisle is an 18-month programme of community archaeological investigation and engagement exploring Carlisle’s Roman remains. We began the excavation on 31st August 2021 and it will run until early October. The excavation will be undertaken by local volunteers, with supervision from our professional archaeologists.
The National Lottery Heritage funded project will enrich Carlisle’s environment for residents and visitors as lockdown eases, create visitor attractions, improve participants wellbeing and skills. The urban location and post-excavation digitisation provide opportunity for those unable to access famous, and remote, parts of Hadrian’s Wall to engage with Carlisle’s Heritage, connecting 21st century to Roman past. Over 450 local people, including school groups, families and adults/young people with additional needs, will be invited to take part in on-site heritage workshops and hands-on activities.
Why are we digging there?
During archaeological investigation relating to the construction of a new Cricket Pavilion in 2017/18, the remains of a formerly unknown high-ranking Roman bathhouse or mansio (an official hotel for travelling imperial officials), dating to the 3rd or 4th century, was discovered. The location of the bathhouse is beside Stanwix, the largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The discovery caused great national interest.
A team of archaeologists from Wardell Armstrong and local volunteers, funded by Carlisle City Council and a local philanthropist Fred Story (of Story Construction), uncovered the remains of three rooms equipped with a Hypocaust, a Roman heating system.
Vast quantities of pottery, bone and metal artefacts were found. We concluded the artefacts excavated are of high archaeological significance. An exceptional engraved stone fragment was discovered, dedicated to Empress Julia Domna (c.160-217 AD), mother of emperor Caracalla and the wife of Emperor Severus. Severus renovated Hadrian’s Wall while campaigning in Scotland, 208-210 AD, and died in York in AD 211. The stone indicates the imperial court may have visited Carlisle around this time, making Carlisle the centre of the Roman world.
The presence of an unknown Roman bathhouse complex in Carlisle, with a direct connection to a Roman Emperor, is significant nationally and internationally. Hadrian’s Wall is one of 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and part of the International Frontiers of the Roman Empire. As such, discoveries and excavation on the Wall have international significance and bring international attention to Carlisle.
For a site of such significance there has been limited research and little evidence of the Roman heritage visible. Excavations at Stanwix were undertaken 1932-4, but none since. As such, the area in the vicinity of Stanwix and the newly discovered bathhouse is of great interest for research and development.
Archaeological queries were determined with Historic England to support the further exploration: what is the full extent and function of the Bathhouse, and Imperial connection? Ascertain information on the 4th and 5th century sub-Roman use of the site, with detailed work on “Dark Earth” deposits.
Please click here to find out more information on how to volunteer and attend workshops.
Image: Stuart Walker Photography