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“We’ve always known that this area was historically significant and we’re very excited to discover the Roman origins of the site.” Andrew Nairne
Excavation in the courtyard in front of Kettle’s Yard has revealed two deep Roman wells and a wall. Inside the Roman wells archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit found two pots; one with a distinct makers mark is Samian ware and was a high quality import from second century Gaul. Chris Evans from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is currently researching the maker’s mark to see who made it. The dark coloured pot was locally manufactured at the same time.
The Roman town in Cambridge was originally established at the top of the hill, in a good defensive position, but later moved down the hill in search of better access to water – so we see a series of terraces dug into the hillside in order to hit the spring lines. The discoveries at Kettle’s Yard are very much part of this progression.
Previous excavations carried out in 1994 had uncovered one well, and the presence of the Roman defensive wall at one point in the passageway had been established by excavations in the early 1980s – but the path and extent of the wall were not known. The current excavations have uncovered two wells in the courtyard area and the line of the ditch across the courtyard. Chris Evans from hopes that excavations within the front gallery will confirm the line of the wall.
The lovely herring-bone patterned fill that you can see in the well is pargetting (decorative plasterwork) from the internal walls of a high quality building nearby. The Roman tile that is included in the wall of St Peter’s Church is also an indication that there was a high status Roman building in the vicinity. The filling of the wells with this demolition debris is probably associated with the building of the defensive wall. The panels would have been made by applying two layers of plaster to reed lathes, and texturing the surface with a roller. Plant material within the panels may reveal where they were made (for example reed seeds found in clay from the Castle Hill site indicated a manufacturing site in North West Cambridge).
The clay you see in the pictures is the natural geology of the area, and the black soil is a mediaeval deposit. The defensive wall was robbed in the mediaeval period and all the large building stone was taken out – so what remains is the ‘memory’ of the wells and the wall; the cuts into the natural geology and the later fill that marks the line of the features.
It’s highly unlikely that the excavations will uncover any hoards of treasure and it is unlikely (though not impossible) that there will be any human remains as Romans didn’t tend to site cemeteries so close to their water source.
The findings are significant for the historic picture of the area but do not effect the progress of the planned building work.