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Roman finds at Capella, Scarborough

The discovery of the Roman settlement at our Capella development in Scarborough is understood to be one of the biggest finds of the last ten years and has created a lot of international media interest recently – experts believe the remains are the first of their kind to be seen in Britain and possibly even the whole Roman Empire!

We’ve produced this webpage to share some of the recent findings, information and photos from the site, including the latest drone footage.

The excavations, carried out by MAP Archaeological Practice Ltd, has revealed a large complex of buildings including a circular central room with a number of rooms leading off it, as well as a bath house.

Archaeology experts believe the remains are likely to represent a high-status luxury Roman villa or religious sanctuary, or perhaps a combination of both. This type of building layout has never been seen before.

Working in partnership with Historic England, North Yorkshire County Council and Scarborough Borough Council, we have modified the design for our Capella development to protect the remains for future generations. You can read more about what we have found below.

The findings

Work by MAP Archaeological Practice between Eastfield and Osgodby in North Yorkshire has revealed settlements, burials and field systems dating from the Neolithic (4000 BC – 2500 BC) to the Roman period (AD 43 – AD 400), as well as evidence of later farming.

The remarkable Roman buildings represent occupation dating from the second century AD to around AD 400. The stone buildings may have replaced mostly, as yet unseen, timber buildings.

At present, the function of these high-status Roman buildings is unclear. Surrounded by a boundary wall, they may have originated as a villa (an upmarket farm), a high-status rural estate or perhaps some form of religious complex.

In their day they would have been very prominent in the landscape, dominating the eastern Vale of Pickering, visible from the Wolds and possibly from the coast near Filey.

What were the Romans doing in Scarborough?

Many archaeologists think there was once an important port in the area. The sea was a great way for the Romans to transport goods and people around their Empire. The sheltered coves and sandy beaches around Scarborough made great places to moor their ships.

Northern boundary wall

These pictures are just outside the northern boundary wall; the stone building replaced a large timber structure built using posts set in pits.

Stone walls replaced the timbers, and as the building went out of use, some of the walls collapsed in or were pushed down, as shown by the pitched stones.

The stones have been compressed into the fill of an earlier pit, and to the left, you can see part of a floor that has subsided into the softer fill of an underlying pit or ditch.

At present we don’t understand what all the buildings were for, but analysis of the finds from the site, along with seeds and other environmental evidence should help.

Some of the buildings away from the core of the site may have been for storage or housing livestock. Outside the boundary wall, the buildings would have been surrounded by fields.

Now the detective work starts

Archaeologists are looking for clues that could tell us who lived here and what they did.

Jewellery could mean the owners were rich. Lots of animal remains could mean they were farmers. Artefacts from far-off places could mean they were traders.

The buildings

This area demonstrates how complex the Roman buildings were. Before the construction of the central circular room with three square rooms off it and an entrance on its far side, there were several other phases of building on the site.

The square room pictured contains a hypocaust – an underfloor heating system. Heat from a furnace located outside the room would have circulated around the pillars under the stone floor. The hot air would have been drawn up channels in the walls to vents at roof level – a broken red tile in the left-hand (northern) wall shows the location of one such channel.

This heated room, along with the quality of the masonry, red mortar (opus signinum) floors in the other square room and finds of painted wall plaster demonstrate the high-status of this final structure. Working out its purpose is much harder.

Underfloor heating isn’t anything new

There’s evidence this villa had clever underfloor heating. But that’s not the only Roman invention we still use today.

Plumbing, roads, the first books, the postal system and even shopping centres were all created by the clever Romans.

Heated floors

The centre of the site seems to have gone through many changes.

Before the buildings were constructed, this area was divided up by ditches into fields dating to the Iron Age (800 BC – AD 43) or the early Roman period.

These were eventually filled in and the stone building pictured was constructed over them as a range of rooms running up the slope to the left (north), some of which may have contained heated floors.

The structure was at least in part demolished when the very unusual round building with attached square rooms was built.

It is not clear how this building was used, but the possible presence of heated floors suggests a high-status domestic function.

Romans weren’t the first people to settle here

There’s evidence of an Iron Age settlement here nearly 3,000 years ago.

We call it the Iron Age because it’s the time people across much of Europe, Asia and parts of Africa began making tools and weapons from iron and steel.

Rectangular masonry building

This extension to the original rectangular masonry building is beautifully built. We think that it might have housed a bath suite, which would not only have been for bathing, but would also have been a focus for social activities.

The range was designed to be heated by hypocausts, with the furnace room to the left heating the rooms – the closer to the furnace a room was, the warmer it would be. To the right, there is a small structure on the outside of the bath suite, a cold plunge pool, essential to allow the users to close their pores after bathing.

The biggest mystery? There is no evidence that the bath suite was ever equipped with pillars (pilae) to allow hot air to circulate under the floors, nor that the furnace was ever fired.

Was the bath suite abandoned before completion?

Romans loved their baths

Bathing was big in Roman times. And not just for getting clean. It’s where people got together to relax and chat. And they were a status thing too. The bigger the bath suite, the more important you were.

Want to know more? Why not follow MAP Archaeological Practice on Twitter and don’t forgot to follow Keepmoat Homes on our social channels too! Check back to this page for future updates.

Looking for a new home in Scarborough take a look at the homes available at Capella here.

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