Archaeological work at Holme Hall quarry started on behalf of Tarmac in 1994, when the area was fieldwalked for finds. Fragments of Roman pottery were found in one area of a ploughed field. As these were thought to indicate the site of a Romano-British farmstead, a geophysical survey was then conducted, which identified a number of possible features, including a kiln, a circular compound and a number of boundary ditches.
The main feature found during excavation was a circular compound enclosed by a bank and ditch. Inside, a large dump of burnt and cracked river cobbles were found next to a hearth. The cobbles would have been heated in the fire then placed in containers to heat water. Was this to cook food or to create sauna-like conditions in a sweatlodge? We’ll never be sure, but thousands of animal bones found on the site suggest that a lot of meat was cooked here.
An impressive amount of pottery was found at Holme Hall – a total of over 5,000 pieces from at least 161 vessels. Some of the vessels are Iron Age, from a few years before the Romans arrived, including a jar and a bowl. The majority dates from between the late 2nd century AD and the end of the 3rd century AD, with some as late as the middle of the 4th century AD. The sheer amount of pottery and its dates of manufacture suggest that this was a farmstead that was occupied for at least 250 years.
Nearly all of the pottery dating to the 2nd century AD is local, except for small amounts from Dorset, Warwickshire and central France. In the 3rd century AD more of the pots were made in Derbyshire. By the 4th century, local pottery was largely replaced by vessels made in Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. The number of table wares increased during the 3rd century. Does this show that the people living here chose to eat in increasingly Roman ways over the generations?
No building foundations were found during the excavation. It is only the hearth and the quantity of pottery and other finds that let us know people used to live here. The remains of their houses may have been lost to later ploughing, or perhaps they were originally built on foundations laid on the ground surface. Whatever the Romano-British buildings were like, the sheer amount of pottery and the quality of the other finds show that a wealthy family lived here.
Finds from the site give a snapshot of human life nearly 2,000 years ago. Broken quern stones tell us that corn was ground into flour here. An iron rod was used for goading oxen while ploughing. Two styli, the pens of their day, were used to inscribe words in a wax tablet. An enamelled copper alloy stud probably held a wooden box together, while a copper alloy brooch (designed as a stylised dragon) would have pinned clothes in place.
The latest finds from Holme Hall were three pieces of a late 4th century AD jar with a lid. Was this the date the family eventually left the site after possibly as many as 12 generations?
|Baking Bread |
One of the distinctive aspects of Romano-British life at Holme Hall was baking bread in ovens outside the compound. The bases of three ovens survived below the reach of the plough. Each was a circular hollow lined on the bottom with limestone blocks, burnt by the heat during baking. A channel on one side of each hearth acted as a flue to draw in air.