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Roman Occupation on Cathedral Site

1st Century AD

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Archaeological evidence around and underneath the Cathedral indicates that there was once a Roman occupation on this site. A building with a boundary ditch and monumental stonework was discovered. These may indicate a substantial building, possibly a temple or monumental arch. The huge amount of Roman pottery found in an archaeological dig in 2016 would agree with this theory. If this building was a temple, it is interesting to speculate whether it was later rededicated as a church when the Romans became Christians. Durobrivae, the nearest major Roman town, has examples of early Christian conversion. A carving at the site, previously thought to be Saxon, has now been identified as Roman. The carving possibly depicts fates or spirits.





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Early Roman Fortress

43-100AD

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Longthorpe Roman fortress sits underneath the present day Thorpe Wood Golf Course. It was built at the beginning of the Roman occupation in what appears to be a hurried way. This suggests that its purpose was to get Roman strength into the area quickly. It sat on a small ridge facing the river Nene, and could hold half a legion, in this case, the Ninth. Despite being built in a rush, it was the only Roman fort in western Europe to have an onsite pottery. It produced excellent quality wares a few metres east of the main fort. The Ninth Legion was sent to stop Boudicca’s rebellion at Camulodunum (Colchester) in around 60AD. The few soldiers who did return were unfortunately badly injured. With too few soldiers to sustain and defend the fort, it was redesigned to a much smaller scale. Archaeological evidence shows a later smaller fort built inside the first for the remaining soldiers.





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Stories From Skeletons

200-400AD

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We have a fascinating insight into Roman lives in what is now Ferry Meadows thanks to the Coney Meadow Cemetery, which was in use around 200-400AD. Over 40 skeletons were discovered of men, women and also children from Roman Peterborough. Archaeologists discovered that the people who were buried here had tough lives, through analysis of the skeletons.  These skeletons give us an understanding of death and disease in Roman Britain. They discovered a family with arm abnormalities and children with ear infections. They also found women with new-born babies, who may have died from complication associated with birth. Recently 3 of the skeletons were subjected to DNA analysis. Scientists were able to date the skeletons to the mid to late Roman period. One of the skeletons, know as 'skeleton 24' was identified as a woman. She had a bone bracelet and bone comb with her when she died, which were both dated to the fourth or early fifth centuries. DNA analysis revealed that she was alive somewhere between 240AD and 390AD. Combined with the bone objects, this reinforces the likelihood that the woman was alive in the late fourth century. There were also fragments of cheap, rough pottery close to the burials on Coney Meadow Cemetery. The lack of expensive pottery suggests these were everyday Romans and not the elite and therefore better representative of other Romans.





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The Roman Town of Durobrivae

65-450AD

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A bridge was built across the River Nene around AD 65, after which a small settlement grew to the south west of the bridge. This prospered as a market centre for trade along the important Ermine Street, the precursor to the modern A1. The town had walls around it for protection and status, and developed major public buildings where a town council met and organised local government, which had controls over roads, cemeteries, baths, water supply and all aspects of the daily life of the town. Added to the towns market importance was its rich sources of clay and iron which were the key resources of a major pottery and metal working industry. The importance of Durobrivae lies in the fact that although the town walls covered 44 acres, the industrial suburbs extended for another 450 acres making a major settlement in Roman Britain.





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Roman Industrial Surburbs of Normangate Field

70-450AD

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The area to the south of Ailsworth and Castor villages is known as Normangate Field. It was the site of extensive Roman pottery and metal working workshops. The Roman road of Ermine Street runs through the area. It can be seen today as a massive bank of earth concealed underneath several hundred years of repeated road surfacing. The potteries here gave their name to the distinctive Roman pottery known at Castor Ware. Interpretation from 2018 has revealed that the Normangate Fields contained a complex and thriving community. The location of the fields put the pottery and metal workers in an excellent position. They were near the Praetorium, Durobrivae and Rive Nene for water-based transport. Also, not only were they straddling Ermine Street, but King Street too. It is possible that King Street was once much more important than Ermine Street based on the location of the workers.





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The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

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Farming arrived in the Peterborough area around 4000 BC. The first farmers were a mix of in-comers from Europe and local people who had acquired the new skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. They grew wheat, barley and oats and kept cattle, sheep and pigs. Their farms – and several are known - were mostly confined to the east of Peterborough, around Fengate, Whittlesey and Eye. They consisted of small oval houses, within garden-like plots where crops were grown. Animals were kept in larger open areas away from the crops. Pigs would have roamed the woodlands around the farms. They buried their dead beneath mounds, known as barrows, or in open graves. The first farmers introduced pottery-making to Britain and also produced fine flint tools with long, knife-like blades. By 3000 BC they had felled most of the trees that grew in the area and the landscape was dominated by large, open pastures.





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Metal Work in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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With the arrival in Britain of skilled metal-workers from mainland Europe around 2500 BC, metal technology began. These people are called the Beaker People, the name arising from their particular style of pottery. The first metal used was copper, but this was soon replaced by the harder bronze (an alloy of 90% copper with 10% tin), for which the time period, the Bronze Age, is named. Smiths working in the Peterborough area, mostly in the east, produced hundreds of swords, daggers, spearheads, axes, pins, ornaments and jewellery, such as rings. The production of metal led to greater control of fire and with it, improved, harder pottery.    





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The Iron Age

800 BC- 43AC

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The Iron Age is the last of the Three Ages of British later prehistory. It begins with the arrival of the new metal, iron, around 800 BC and ends with Roman troops landing on the shores of Kent, in AD 43. The Romans gave the British writing and with writing came recorded history – which is why prehistory is said to cease with their arrival. People in Iron Age Britain are sometimes described as Celts and they spoke Celtic languages, which survive today in Breton, Welsh, Gallic (Scotland) and Gaelic (Ireland). The working of iron requires greater control of very high temperatures which led to improvements in pottery firing and less regionalised pottery styles.  The Iron Age saw the  appearance of ditched enclosed farmstead-type settlements as at Itter Crescent, open settlements characterised by roundhouses and pits as at Fengate, and the building of the hillforts like the earthworks at Newborough. Societies were hierarchically organised in this period, having moved from the extended clan to the chiefdoms and the earliest named rulers. These are the tribes the Romans encountered when they came to Britain in the first century. The best known of these rulers was Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe/kingdom. She led a popular rebellion against Roman rule, in AD 60-1. Environmentally, the Iron Age sees increased flooding and higher groundwater levels in the fens.





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Honey Hill in Use

c. 1300

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The name Honey Hill is still in use in Paston today, but its origins come from a post mill. The mill was situated on a large mound between Dogsthorpe and Paston, under what is now Bluebell Avenue and Heather Avenue. Often assumed to be a moated house, an archaeological dig in 1960 proved the mound was in fact a late 13th century millstead. Artefacts discovered included pottery, millstone remains and clay pipes, which showed that it was in use until the 14th century, after which it was abandoned. Two coins were found on the site, a farthing from the reign of Edward I (1302-1307) and a sixpence from 1568.





The Remains of a 4,000-year-old House

2000BC

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During excavations in Fengate, to the east of Peterborough, archaeologists found the remains of a Neolithic house dated to 2,000BC. Although the structure had long vanished, evidence of people living there was found. A large circular ditch was discovered and in the area inside the ditch was domestic waste. There were several small pits into which the people had swept their household rubbish. The rubbish included charcoal, flint flakes, animal bones and pottery. Other evidence revealed that the home was set within a farm. There were animals and probably crops too. Possibly the best finds were a well and small pit. They remained wet, so the items inside them were wonderfully preserved. The well contained a woven-twig lining, possibly to keep the water clear. The pit contained a ladder made from the trunk of an alder tree with deep notches for footholds. For many years a replica was on display at Flag Fen and is featured in the roundhouse image on the Flag Fen website. This house was in use 1,000 years after the first evidence of a Neolithic house in Fengate and at a time when Fengate was getting very busy indeed.
Reference
A. Taylor, Prehistoric Cambridgeshire, (1977, Oleander Press)