Roman ‘dual carriageway’ and market town unearthed on HS2 dig

A Roman “dual carriageway” has been unearthed by archaeologists along with the remains of an ancient British boom town.

Excavation work for HS2 has uncovered the remains of a 26-acre settlement near Chipping Warden in Northamptonshire, which reveals signs of entrepreneurial town planning in Britain more than 1,700 years ago.

Archaeologists have discovered a “dual carriageway” twice the side of an ordinary Roman road running through the site, likely laid to ease congestion for merchants and their carts cramming into what was a thriving trading town.

Its oversized infrastructure shows the commercial importance of the site, which enjoyed a boom in the third century AD, experts have said, and finery from across the Roman Empire poured into the town before it went bust with the end of Roman rule.

James West, the site manager, said that the well-preserved Roman “dual carriageway” once helped make the settlement a “market hub”, adding: “Most Roman roads we find are about four metres [13ft] across, but this is 10 metres [33ft].

“We think the reason for that is to allow two streams of traffic to pass through this area. This would have been a very busy area at that time, and you can imagine people loading and unloading goods when they arrived here.”

Roman statue discovery along HS2 route

Jim McKeon, the Museum of London Archaeology project manager at the site, said building the road showed “clever town planning” by locals who exploited the settlement’s position near the River Cherwell and the Fosse Way Roman road.

The well-connected town likely shipped livestock and agricultural goods towards London, and its newfound wealth from the third century is revealed by the luxuries coming the other way, including glass vessels, jewellery, and high-status pottery from Gaul.

Hundreds of Roman coins have also been found by the 70 archaeologists working at the site, along with chemical compounds used to make ancient make-up, and ornate scale weights for weighing merchants’ wares.

Shackles have also been found at the site, which may indicate slaves were traded in the area.

The town plan, which helped the local economy, also segregated the settlement and archaeologists have found what they have termed a Roman “B-road”, leading traffic away from the residential area to the equivalent of an “industrial estate”.

Ceramic figurines, a pewter plate, lead die and bone gaming pieces, and silver and copper coins were among the treasures found on the HS2 site

The remains of the Roman trading settlement

Mr McKeon said: “It has been well thought out. Just like today, you don’t want the smelly, heavy industry near where you live.”

Excavations have found evidence of large fires, indicating the area may have been used to bake large quantities of bread, or as a foundry or pottery kiln. Experts have also unearthed evidence of a holding area for livestock.

Both working areas are set apart from larger residences in the settlement, which may have been several stories, and indicate the newfound wealth of locals.

Whilst the town appears to have enjoyed a boom period under Roman rule, estimated to have lasted from about 250AD to 350AD, the settlement appears to have suffered an economic bust following the end of Roman rule in the early fifth century.

Mr McKeon said: “Once the Empire begins to recede, those trade links with Europe begin to disappear. There just aren’t the same opportunities.”

Other remarkable discoveries included a Roman pot and a well

The hidden road, made up of several layers of stone arranged in different sizes, would also have made the area impossible to plough for later farmers

Archaeological evidence suggests that the site went quickly out of use following this economic collapse, as the local population returned to the subsistence agriculture that predominated in the area before Roman rule.

Mr McKeon believes that the site’s 10 metre-wide road may have been quickly covered and lost during this period, saying: “Just like today, if today you left a motorway unused, it wouldn’t take long before it would become covered by soil and vegetation.”

The hidden road, made up of several layers of stone arranged in different sizes, would also have made the area impossible to plough for later farmers, and as a result the site has remained well-preserved

The Museum of London Archaeology team working along the HS2 rail line has found evidence of 30 Iron Age roundhouses and a road from the period before Romanisation and the village becoming a prominent trading hub. So far, only uncovered above five acres of the settlement, which geophysical surveys suggest could be 26 acres in size.

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