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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 778: summary

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Roman burials, buildings, and enclosures west of Mersea Road, Colchester: Stage 3 archaeological excavation at Colchester Garrison Alienated Land Area E (GAL E) - January 2013
by Howard Brooks
(with contributions from B Holloway, S Benfield, N Crummy, J Curl, V Fryer, R Masefield (RPS), A Wightman, E Holloway)

Date report completed: June 2015
Location: Colchester Garrison Alienated Land Area E (GAL E), off Mersea Road, Colchester, Essex
Map reference(s): TL 99820 24270
File size: 11,692 kb
Project type: excavation
Significance of the results: **/***
Keywords: Roman, field system, enclosure, building, cemetery, bustum burial

Summary. The site is in the southern hinterland of the Roman walled town where previous excavation has revealed Roman and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, funerary monuments, and a circus. This is the report on a Roman cemetery of seventeen burials, and a later large Roman quarry set within paddocks and enclosures, all to the west of a previouslyidentified Romanised farmstead building. Evaluations (2004, 2011) and excavation (2013) on a site now occupied by St John’s Primary School revealed three phases of Roman activity consisting of a cemetery, ditches and enclosures. The first phase consisted of 1st-century Roman cemetery including high status individuals to one side of an early ditch (part of a north-west/south-east rectlinear landscape) which may have been its western boundary. The cemetery continued into phase 2, when it may have been associated with a Romanised farmstead building of early Roman date (found by the 2004 trenching) and associated with the northern of two connected east-west enclosures forming a new landscape arrangement. These enclosures were at right-angles to the presumed north-south course of the Roman road leading to the town’s south-east gate, thought to be on the approximate course of Mersea Road to the east of the new school site. The east-west landscape may have continued in use into the early 3rd century by when the Romanised building was seemingly abandoned. The Roman cemetery may have continued in use despite the landscape changes, The Phase 2 southern enclosure is likely to have been agricultural in use - a farmyard compound. In Phase 3 (later 2nd/3rd century) a large sand and gravel quarry was dug through the Phase 1 and 2 ditches and probably through the southern extent of the earlier cemetery. The quarry was itself cut by several large pits on its southern edge which were filled with domestic rubbish and building material of the mid 2nd to 3rd century. This dating is similar to the latest material associated with the Romanised building and may reflect its final phase/abandonment. The elite nature of three early burials, including an in situ cremation (bustum) probably male burial of c AD70 (accompanied by lamps and a coin of Vespasian), and a cremation burial (containing the fittings from a boxed burial and fragments of a mirror) may indicate that the Phase 1 and 2 cemetery was exclusively used by one prosperous family founded at the time of the colony. The proximity to the Romanised farmstead building might suggest the farmstead had its origins in the 1st century. A large ditch on the southern edge of the site is probably a circumvallation ditch dug in the Civil War of 1648, east of Fort Needham.