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More digging to take place at Roman settlement in Alderney

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS have been given the go-ahead to bring up more buried secrets from what could be one of the most significant Roman settlements in the British Isles.

A dig in Alderney last summer revealed a Roman paved courtyard and chest-high walls a metre or so under the scrub at Longis. The site also yielded a second century bronze coin, a glass bead and good quality pottery fragments – indicators that people of some status may have lived and worked there almost 2,000 years ago.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the site is its scale. The network of masonry unearthed last July is believed to be part of a larger site covering some 40,000sq. m of land – bigger in its entirety than medieval St Peter Port.

Archaeologists said the finds offered the tantalising possibility that the remains of Roman streets and villas were waiting to be discovered under the blanket of windblown sand which eventually covered the site.

Earlier this month, Guernsey’s head of heritage services Dr Jason Monaghan and States of Guernsey archaeologist Dr Phil de Jersey were granted permission by Alderney’s General Services Committee to extend their search in a three-week dig from 11 August. They will be joined by local volunteers and students from a UK university.

Dr Monaghan said the team was excited about returning to Alderney and learning more about such an ‘intriguing’ part of the island’s history. ‘This is a unique and extensive site, bigger than anything we have seen in the Channel Islands or adjacent French coasts,’ he said.

‘The sand preserves the bone, pottery and metal objects we need to date and interpret the site.’

Dr Monaghan said the team had a number of objectives to achieve this year. They would like to reopen the trench east of Rue des Mielles where the stone pavement was found in a bid to discover more about the building it belongs to.

‘In the same area we hope to go deeper to confirm our suspicions that the Romans built on top of the earlier Iron Age cemetery, which appears much richer than would be expected on a small island.

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‘Our trenches in the rough ground east of the golf course will help advance our understanding of what kind of ground plan the Romans were working to. This will indicate whether what we are looking at is a military or a civilian settlement. If we have the time, sufficient people and the weather is kind we also want to follow up the results of a resistivity survey we did last year which indicates that there could be a large ditch on Longis Common.’

Graham McKinley, chairman of the GSC, said the States welcomed the team’s return.

‘They are slowly unravelling a fascinating history in that part of the island which could prove a very valuable asset for Alderney,’ he said.

Alderney is already home to the UK’s best preserved Roman fortlet.

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The fourth century fortification at the Nunnery was believed to have been built to protect Longis harbour, which sheltered Roman vessels patrolling the Channel.

For the past decade the Nunnery has been the focus of archaeological exploration.

But in 2017 workmen digging a service trench along the Rue des Mielles unearthed a skull and bones. They were found to be second and first century BC Iron Age remains from a burial site adjacent to and under the road.

The objective of last year’s dig was to learn more about the extent of the Iron Age burial ground and archaeologists duly discovered the remains of 12 burials.

But to their surprise, they also found evidence of a Roman settlement pre-dating the Nunnery.

They now hope the site will become the regular destination for a UK university’s summer field school, an idea to be trialled this year.

Nick Mann

By Nick Mann
author

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