On Tuesday of last week, we dug only until lunch time, at which point we came back to the cottages, brushed off the dirt, and made our way to the Cumbrian coast to meet up with a group of students from Newcastle University and see the excavations being carried out at the Roman fort at Maryport. An hour and a half in the car later, we were greeted at the site by Professor Ian Haynes, who showed us around the museum, and shared with us the mystery of the Maryport altars (Alex gives an impromptu epigraphy lesson with them below). There were seventeen altars found in several large pits by excavators in the Victorian era. However, antiquarian archaeologists did not record their finds in the same way we do today. Because of this, when the altars were found they were simply removed from the jumble of other stones that accompanied them and the pits were refilled with the dirt that had been removed. Therefore, modern archaeologists must now try to determine the particular pits from which these altars were extracted, their origin, and their purpose.
Tony Wilmott (British archaeologist of the year; below left) explained in a presentation for us that the altars were most likely being used to fill large post holes and to provide support for huge beams, implying that there was a very large structure on this site. Whence the altars came and why some were buried the way they were are both still mysteries, but excavations continue in an attempt to solve them.
Professor Haynes took us to Mile Fortlet 21 near the coast (you can see us all at the fortlet in the picture below). Before heading back to the museum for dinner and a lecture, we spent some time exploring the nearby beach on the Cumbrian Coast.
One of the best parts of the day was having the chance to meet the Newcastle students who are also studying archaeology. The students in the picture below are from the University of Newcastle, and are all working on the excavation at Maryport. We got to hang out just outside the museum, overlooking the ocean, and discussed everything from archaeological dilemmas to cultural differences (there are separate taps here for hot and cold … why do we have to choose?). Though at separate sites with different archaeological questions to ponder, both groups are passionately forging ahead, contributing what we can to the archaeological community as a whole.