It was a very wet day when I met members of Manchester Museum’s Young Archaeologists Club in the car park opposite the site of the Roman fort site at Castleshaw near Oldham last Saturday. Despite the weather, it was too good an opportunity to miss because the site is currently the subject of a four week community archaeology excavation, which is funded mainly by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
For those who are not familiar with the site, the fort was made of turf and timber fort and was built around AD 79. It was abandoned about 15 years later but the Roman army returned to the site around AD 105 and erected a smaller fortlet, which in turn was abandoned after about 20 years. In the 1980s Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit (GMAU) led a project to investigate and landscape the site of the fortlet. More recently, attention has turned to the remains of the larger fort which are poorly understand and difficult to access. Features uncovered so far during the excavations include an extensive area of the Roman road exiting the east gate, the east gate itself, defensive ditches, internal roads and barrack blocks, a workshop area overlying prehistoric features, and a 17th century cottage.
I understand that around 300 school children, 150 adult volunteers and various special groups are involved in the project which is being led by the Friends of Castleshaw Roman Forts supported by a small team of professional archaeologists. The dig finishes on Friday 1st August so the Young Archaeologists Club visit last Saturday was a rare chance to see the excavations in progress before the trenches were backfilled. Incidentally, given that the vast majority of parents naturally want to encourage their children to do well at school, one way of helping them is to register them for membership of the Young Archaeologists Club. One former member recently told me that his time in the Manchester YAC had a huge influence on his interests and particularly on his desire to study archaeology at university and his enjoyment of History and Classics at A-level. He said the excavations he did with YAC at sites around Manchester were so exciting and inspiring for him, as well as the other events organised.at the Museum.
The Young Archaeologists from Manchester Museum were allocated a section of a trench where the Roman road inside the fort had been exposed and cleaned. The photograph above shows the youngsters lined up and trowelling back from the cleaned Roman road surface. This was till within the plough soil and so the pieces of pottery that they found tended to be of post-medieval date. There on the surface I found a sherd of mustard yellow slipware with two concentric ribs, probably dating from the 17th century.
After seeing some of the objects that had already been found the Young Archaeologists were treated to a tour of the site with site Director Norman Redhead. In one of the trenches Norman showed us the section of the Roman rampart with dark linear stains. These were the tell-tale marks left by turves that the Roman soldiers had cut and stacked one on top of the other to create a defensive rampart. It’s amazing to think they are still clearly visible after some 2000 years.
In view of the appalling weather and following site tour the Young Archaeologists decided that discretion was the better part of valour and finished early. Our sincerest thanks to Norman and everyone else who enabled the Young Archaeologists to go out and experience this truly wonderful piece of Roman frontier archaeology.