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Roman Town in the North

A unique example of an unprotected Roman civilian settlement in County Durham, North of the River Tees has been identified on an aerial photograph taken earlier this year.

The Roman town near Sedgefield, north of Darlington, consists of a series of house plots, lanes, and rectilinear enclosures at the edge of a Roman road, very similar in plan to civilian settlements excavated further south. An intensive metal-detector search over the area has produced bronze and silver coins and brooches tightly dated to the period AD 120–200.

According to county archaeologist Niall Hammond, the town may have been planted in an attempt to create a civilian Roman culture in the area when the frontier was moved north from Hadrian’s Wall to the Antonine Wall in AD 142–3. When the northern frontier was relinquished after 163, the region immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall reverted to being a military buffer zone and the town seems to have been abandoned.

The two parallel green lines are interpreted as the ditches alongside of the Roman road, This road is known as Cade's road after an 18th century Antiquarian who first identified it and is the principal north-south route through Roman East Durham leading up to Newcastle and The Wall. In general the linear features furthest away from the Roman road (beyond the 19thc parkland tree clump right of centre) correspond to field boundaries, whilst those nearer the road appear to be enclosures with structural remains of some quite complex buildings. As for the "frying pan" top left, no clear idea but the long linear leading up to it my be one of two parallel ditches (the other invisible under pasture to the north) leading up to the rectangular enclosure. The formality of the whole might indicate a temple but if so this would be exceptional for Durham and has to be viewed as highly conjectural!

I would like to thank Niall Hammond for this article and the picture.

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