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Traces of 2,000-Year-Old Roman Roundhouse Found in Northern England

Excavations at Bamburgh Castle uncovered the foundations of a circular dwelling dated to the Roman occupation of Britain

Volunteers at Bamburgh Castle discovered the foundations of an ancient roundhouse. (Photo by Owen Humphreys / PA Images via Getty Images)
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Excavations at Bamburgh Castle, a medieval stronghold on the northeastern coast of England, have unearthed what may be a roundhouse dated back to the Roman occupation of Britain, reports BBC News.

Volunteers discovered the roundhouse’s foundations, which measure around 40 feet in diameter, while wrapping up annual fieldwork at the castle, writes Ian Smith for the News Post Leader. A spur-of-the-moment decision to dig just a little deeper ultimately revealed the structure’s ruins after what may have been more than 2,000 years of obscurity.

“There’s a good chance that the foundations date back to the Romano British period when Britain was under Roman occupation,” says Graeme Young, director of the Bamburgh Research Project, in a statement. “Bamburgh would more than likely have been within a military zone north of Hadrian’s Wall, where client chieftains were paid off by the Romans to keep the peace and control the natives.”

The Roman occupation of Great Britain began in 43 A.D. and lasted for nearly 400 years, only ending with Emperor Honorius’ withdrawal from the region in 410 A.D. As Joel Day points out for Express, the Romans conquered almost all of England and Wales; for a short time, the invaders even managed to subjugate southern Scotland’s notoriously fierce tribes.

Previously, Bamburgh Castle’s earliest recorded history dated to the sixth century, when a fortress was erected at the site for Anglo-Saxon monarch Ida. Vikings ransacked this original structure in 993, leaving it to fall into a dilapidated state.

Per the historical site’s website, the core of the castle seen today dates to the Norman conquest of England in the late 11th century. During the medieval period, Bamburgh—which sits atop a 150-foot cliff face overlooking the North Sea—served as a seat of power for the kings of Northumbria and the earls of Northumberland.

Finds like the newly unearthed roundhouse could help illuminate the site’s poorly understood early history, as well as the broader transition from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England, says Young in the statement.

He adds, “To find a roundhouse in the north with such a well-preserved sequence of floor surfaces is very rare, but what is exciting is that it may help us fill the missing jigsaw pieces of continuity in Bamburgh’s history, which is one of the most historically rich archaeological sites in the U.K.”

Speaking with Joe Pinkstone of the Daily Mail, Young says the structure’s foundations probably supported a solid, timber-frame building with a “conical thatched roof” and “a doorway pointing somewhere south.”

For now, the dwelling’s one-time occupant remains unknown. But Young speculates that the property may have housed a fisherman.

“There are an awful lot of periwinkle shells here which can be used as food but it is often used as bait for fishing and it is not impossible that this building is used for fishing,” he tells the Daily Mail. “We are right next to the sea after all.”

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