THE “spectacular” discovery of ancient pottery has revealed how the Romans wined and dined here in South Tyneside almost 2,000 years ago.
And far from sampling the delights of our local brews, it seems they still preferred to ship wines from the Mediterranean to their northern outpost.
Several pieces of a 3ft-tall wine jug have been found during an excavation just outside Arbeia Roman Fort.
The pottery will be stuck together to recreate the metre-high jug, which would have contained numerous litres of wine when it was imported to the fort between AD 250 and AD 350.
The find has been described as “spectacular and significant” by archaeologist Nick Hodgson.
Mr Hodgson is project manager for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, which conducted the dig at Arbeia with a team of volunteers, from June to September.
He said: “What is special about this is it can be stuck together to see what it originally looked like.
“Containers like this were used for bulk transportation. This is very significant because it is of a rather unusual late Roman type, which only started being imported from AD 250.
“It shows that the Romans still had a taste for Mediterranean wine at that period – they had not gone native and adapted to local beer or wine.
“They were still importing it to South Shields. It’s a spectacular and significant find.”
The container is made of clay, and includes volcanic rock, and is believed to have been imported on a ship from Campania in Italy.
The jug was found in a roadside gully during the excavations, on the corner of Baring Street and Fort Street, South Shields. Smaller pieces of other similar jugs were also found.
A stone building was also discovered, which suggests there was still occupation and activity in the area in about AD 260, when most civilian settlements outside forts in the north of England had been abandoned.
More than 70 volunteers worked on the 2011 excavation from the UK and abroad, thanks to the Earthwatch Institute, a national environmental charity which supports conservation projects.
It is hoped a community archeology project next year will encourage more local people to get involved with excavations at Roman forts, including Arbeia.
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums is hoping to secure £410,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the initiative, which would include excavations, events and research into the eastern section of the wall from its starting point at Wallsend in North Tyneside, to Hexham in Northumberland.