Unearthing more of Arbeia's secrets

SECRETS of the past will be uncovered after archaeologists this week launched excavation work at new area of South Shields' Arbeia Roman Fort.

For the first time in 25 years a dig is being carried out just outside the south west corner of the fort, in what is believed to have been a civilian area.

It is hoped the work, which started in earnest on Monday, will uncover evidence of streets and stone and timber buildings, providing vital clues to how civilians lived in Roman times.

Graeme Stobbs, project manager at Arbeia, said: "It's very exciting, we're chomping at the bit to really get started, but the weather is causing delays.

"It's unfortunate, we're like kids who can't play with a new toy."

The digs are to be carried out throughout the summer by archaeologists with the US-based Earthwatch Institute and postgraduate students from across the globe.

Mr Stobbs added: "We get asked what we expect to find, but we can't really say. Part of the excitement is not knowing what we'll uncover."

The archaeologists do hope to find the collapsed remains of the fort wall, the defensive ditches that surrounded the fort, and buildings belonging to the civilian settlement that grew up outside the fort walls.

Nick Hodgson, principal keeper of archaeology at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums said: "It is always an exciting moment when layers of earth and rubble are removed and remains are brought to light for the first time in many hundreds of years.

"Arbeia has the richest collection of finds from any excavated Roman fort in the Hadrian's Wall area, and we hope to add to the collection of inscriptions, pottery, jewellery, weapons and coins already on display in the site museum."

Most digging inside the fort in the last 25 years has been in the south east corner of the fort, first unearthed in 1983, where the reconstructed Commanding Officer's House now stands.

This excavation has now been completed and stonemasons are now working to put the Roman remains uncovered there on permanent display, alongside the reconstructions, which is supported by SITA Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund.

The new area has been chosen because of its high potential and because archaeologists want to learn more about the area outside the walls of the Roman fort.

They now hope to find some evidence for what happened to the site during the mysterious period after Roman Britain came to an end, almost 1,600 years ago.

Archaeological work will take place throughout the summer, and visitors will be able to get up close to watch the excavators at work, as well as visiting Arbeia's spectacular remains reconstructions and museum.

A guided tour of the archaeological dig will take place on Wednesday July 22 at 2pm. To book a place, contact Arbeia Roman Fort on 456 1369.