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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 438: summary

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Stage 1b archaeological evaluation, Alienated Land Area B1b, Colchester Garrison, Colchester, Essex
by Brooks, H, Holloway, B and Masefield, R.
(with contributions from B.Benfield, N. Crummy, J. Curl, W. Clarke, Dr K. Oak, V. Fryer, H. Martingell.)

Date report completed: September 2007
Location: Colchester Garrison, Colchester, Essex
Map reference(s): TL99742463 (C)
File size: 2,391KB kb
Project type: Evaluation
Significance of the results: **
Keywords: Circus, prehistoric, medieval, post-medieval, Roman Cemetery, Flint, Roman Tile, roman pottery, tesserae, domestic, roman building, roman ditch, roman pit, coins, roman painted wall plaster, roman inhumation, roman cremation, metalled surface, small finds, medieval wall, medieval pottery, medieval floor

Summary. This 5.2ha parcel of land coincides with the southern and western part of the walled precinct of St John’s Abbey, and with the eastern end of the Roman circus. An archaeological evaluation by 25 trenches uncovered evidence for prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post-medieval activity. Area B1b represents the meeting-point of three zones of Roman extra-mural activity comprising a settlement zone, a public entertainment building in the form of the Roman circus, and a cemetery. A small number of struck flints indicates a low level of activity here in the prehistoric period. A large quantity of residual Roman pottery and tile (including tesserae, pila tiles and roofing tiles) is presumably derived from domestic activity and unidentified Roman buildings in this area. Roman pitting (T10, T12, T13) and a ditch (T17) are similarly representative of a settlement zone and add to the 2nd century domestic pit found during the 2002 evaluation of the site. Pottery and coin finds suggest a later 1st- to 4th-century date for this extra-mural occupation. The information can be added to the results of the Area B1a evaluations undertaken in 2002 and 2007 which identified further Roman pitting, ditches and post-holes and residual domestic finds including a quantity of painted wall-plaster from a nearby building. Two Roman inhumation burials and one cremation burial, the latter within a large quarry-pit (T31) were excavated at the south end of the site. These were probably part of the same general Roman cemetery previously excavated in GAL Area C2, 150m to the WSW, and at Napier Road, immediately to the south-west. Loose finds indicate at least three more burials. Roman quarrying was also evident in the south east corner of the site. The predicted position of the east end of the Roman circus coincided with the southern edge of the site, and five trenches were specifically targeted on the circus structure. These confirmed the expected position of the cavea walls, and also exposed the south face of the partially-robbed St John’s Abbey precinct wall. One robber trench contained peg-tile, indicating a potentially late date for the end of robbing activity here. A gravel surface was located on the outer side of the circus, matching that previously found on GAL Areas C1 and C2. Although Anglo-Saxon burials are recorded on the east side of Mersea Road, no Anglo-Saxon material was recovered during this evaluation. Despite the location of this site in the southern and western part of the walled precinct of St John’s Abbey, only one building could definitely be associated with the medieval abbey. This was a right-angled wall foundation with a rough cobble surface on its west side and a clay floor on its east side, possibly the south-west corner of a building with an internal clay floor (T18). Given the position of this structure, it must have been part of the monastic buildings. Other possibly medieval structural remains were located to the south in T9, on the western edge of the site, where buildings appear to have linked up with the western precinct wall of the abbey. Another abbey-period structure was a lime-kiln/pit probably contemporary with the rebuilding of the abbey after the major fire of AD 1133. Finds probably from the abbey church include thick glass from a stained-glass window. Other wall foundations containing peg-tile (T22, T25) may be late medieval (and so associated with the abbey), or post-medieval (and associated with post-Dissolution use of the site and particularly the Lucas mansion).