Excavations in Derbyshire have uncovered the remains of a Roman settlement near the fort at Brough.

The excavation site with archaeologists at work
Hope Quarry under excavation [Image: © ARS Ltd]

The investigation was carried out between July and November by Archaeological Research Services (ARS) as part of a project on land at Breedon’s Hope Quarry in the Peak District National Park. The area is known to have a rich industrial and mining heritage, dating back to at least the Roman period, and it was hoped that the project would shed more light on Roman influence on the Peak District landscape.

Archaeological work in this area revealed a vicus, or settlement, with houses and workshops that would have been associated with the fort that lies in the nearby village of Brough (referred to as ‘Navio’ in Roman inscriptions). The fort is thought to have been established around AD 80, as the Romans advanced into Brigantian territory, and was occupied until AD 125. There was then a second phase of use from AD 154-158 to roughly AD 350. This was a strategically important site between the late 1st and the 4th centuries AD, when much of the land north of the Peak District was still hostile to Roman occupation. It was located in a crucial position at the heart of a Roman road network in the centre of Britain, and was also in an area that was a vital source of lead, which would be transported across the Roman Empire for pipes, tanks, and waterproofing.

The area excavated by ARS has produced a large quantity of material, possibly indicating that a wide range of activities were taking place there, including craftwork-processing activities and domestic occupation. Over 1,700 sherds of pottery have been recovered, from locally produced greyware to imported high-status terra sigillata and sherds of amphorae. Also discovered were carved stone fragments and coins. The remains of stone-founded and timber buildings and other indications of industrial activity are thought to be further evidence of the lead-smelting that took place in this area.

Two stone ballista balls on a red background
Two stone ballista balls were found during the excavation.
[Image: © ARS Ltd]

There is also evidence that the settlement was equipped for defence. The discovery of two stone ballista balls that would have been fired from a catapult indicate that it was an area where military activity or conflict took place, while a substantial defensive ditch with evidence of a bank surrounding the vicus that suggests that the vicus itself, not just the fort, was fortified.

Some post-Roman and pre-Roman archaeology has been uncovered, but the project’s main contribution has been the new information revealed about the Roman settlement and its relationship with the adjoining fort at Brough, giving a more complete picture of the military outpost as a whole.


This news article appears in issue 359 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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