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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 1142: summary

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The Roman circus and other remains: archaeological evaluation and monitoring at the former Arena Leisure Centre, Circular Road East, Colchester, Essex, CO2 7SZ - Stage 1b: pre-determination trenching - May-June 2017
by Laura Pooley
(with contributions from Stephen Benfield, Val Fryer, Alec Wade)

Date report completed: October 2017
Location: the former Arena Leisure Centre, Circular Road East, Colchester, Essex, CO2 7SZ
Map reference(s): TL 997 244 (c)
File size: 14,947 kb
Project type: archaeological evaluation and monitoring - pre-determination trenching
Significance of the results: ***
Keywords: Roman, circus

Summary. An archaeological evaluation (eleven trial-trenches) was carried out on the former Arena Club Leisure Centre, Circular Road East, Colchester as part of Stage 1b pre-planning application work associated with the redevelopment of the site. Part of the site of Colchester's Roman circus (scheduled monument 35614) is located within the northern part of the development site with Roman burials, a kiln, ditches and pits having been recorded both on the site and in the immediate vicinity. Remains associated with the Roman circus were encountered in two of the evaluation trenches (T12-T13) at depths of 0.27-0.39m below current ground level. Trench T12 was positioned over the central barrier, and the shallow remains of a robbed-out wall foundation were identified. Trench T13 was positioned over the southern cavea. The remains of the robbed-out outer cavea wall foundation were identified along with the robbed-out and in situ remains of two north-south walls/wall foundations with metalling in between them. Significantly, these walls/wall foundations represent the remains of a passageway or vomitorium leading to the cavea seating area. The remaining nine trenches were located to the south of the circus. Twenty-one Roman features, predominantly of 2nd- to 3rd-century date, were identified: nine ditches, two ditches/gullies, five pits, four possible inhumation burials and one possible pyre site or bustum. Together with evidence from the stage 1a evaluation, it has been possible to identify two parallel north/south ditches running through the site which probably formed a trackway or droveway leading to another passagway/vomitorium identified in 2005. Other ditches most likely formed field boundaries to the south of the east-west aligned circus. It is, however, notable that several of these ditches were aligned north-west/south-east and north-east/south-west rather than north-south and east-west, and these may belong to the Late Iron Age/early Roman landscape typical of the landscape to the south of Abbey Field principally identified by the new Garrison (Merville Barracks) project. A total of 16 possible inhumation burials or burial related features (five in this current Stage 1b evaluation) have now been recorded during both stages of evaluation. However, as none were fully excavated, more work would be needed (where appropriate depending on development impact) to confirm their identification and ascertain the presence of human skeletal remains and any associated grave goods. Post-medieval features consisted of four ditches and a pit. Four other ditches/gullies are of possible post-medieval/modern date, and a number of concrete beams and services were all associated with the demolished Arena Club building.