On Friday 12th July members of the Friends of Castleshaw Roman forts came to the Manchester Museum to see finds from the excavations that took place in 1907. I got out a lot of the finds from the store and took them up to the seminar room in the Collection Study Centre. The session was organised by Norman Redhead Heritage Management Director (Archaeology) at the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service, University of Salford. Norman is in the early stages of a community project to promote interest in what must be one of the most spectacular locations for a Roman fort in Britain. It is on a spur leading off the Standedge, the most important crossing point of the Pennine moors, between Marsden in West Yorkshire and Diggle in Greater Manchester.
It was here that the Romans ceated a fort to control movement across the Pennines during the governorship of Julius Agricola in the late 70s AD. The fort was garrisoned by an auxiliary regiment of the Roman army until about AD 90 and replaced about AD 105 by a smaller fortlet, which sits inside the larger auxiliary fort. At this time the garrison was only about 100 men. Some time in the 120s the fortlet too was abandoned. The site was excavated in 1907 by Francis Bruton and during the late 1950s and 1960s by Rosser and Thompson.
All the material ought to date, therefore, from the 70s to the 120s AD. This seems to be the case with the glass and the pottery. Pieces of rusticated ware have been found. There are pieces of samian ware although the surface has not survived very well. A piece with gladiators was featured in the 1911 report. Pieces of amphora used to transport wine, olive oil and fish sauce or garum were found though curiously there are relatively few body sherds. Were they weeded out by the Edwardian excavators? There are quite a lot of mortaria, some with stamps.
I speculated that they may have been making special mashes to feed to the horses that pulled wagons crossing the pass. There are also pieces of Black Burnished ware which was coming into northern Britain from the 120s with the building of Hadrian’s’ Wall. My favourite piece is a piece of tile with a stamp which reads COHIIIIBR(E?) – the fourth cohort of Breuci (?). These were men originally recruited in the Balkans.
Further work was done by Rosser although the finds from that dig have vanished mysteriously. Sadly the excavator killed himself. Francis Thompson continued the work. One of the discoveries was a pit with broken pieces of beaker pottery, which we have in the Museum. I got out the most complete beaker – which also happens to be the most complete prehistoric pot in the Manchester Museum archaeology collection. Perhaps people in prehistoric times, 4000 years ago, were attracted by the view.
This was probably the first time in many years that the material has been out on a table for people to see. It was great to see a selection of the finds. Although metalwork had not survived particularly well and even the samain pottery looked as though the surface had deteriorated badly in the acidic conditions, some things had survived in very good condition. The glass for instance: there are broken pieces of a beautiful pillar-moulded bowl and several shards from a square vessel with raised circles on the base. There were also three glass gaming counters and a fragment of a glass bangle or bracelet and a number of melon beads. It is not clear whether some of these could have belonged to women or whether men were using them. All of these can be found amongst the Roman finds from Manchester.
There is great potential to look at the 1907 finds again with the benefit of all the research that has been done since then. Let’s hope Norman’s proposed project with the Friends of Castleshaw Roman forts is successful! You can find out more by reading Norman’s article ‘Renewed interest in the Castleshaw Roman Forts’ in Bulletin of the Saddleworth Historical Society Vol.42, no.3 (autumn 2012), pp.65-74.