(ORDO NEWS) — The small island in the English Channel was fairly densely populated during Roman times. True, it is not very clear why.
Alderney is the northernmost of the inhabited Channel Islands, with an area of less than eight square kilometers.
It is not as well known to archaeologists as Jersey, where the Neanderthals were found, or like Guernsey, where Neolithic menhirs remained. Although there is an assumption that there were megaliths on Alderney, they were destroyed in the 19th century and used as building material.
Dr. Rob Fry (Rob Fry) from the University of Reading (UK) conducted last week scanning the surface of the island using ground penetrating radar. Now he is analyzing the data, but preliminary conclusions have already been drawn.
Under the Longis settlement in the southeast of the island, scientists have found many walls and stone floors. Most likely, these are buildings from the time of the Roman Empire, although archaeologists do not exclude that artifacts from the Iron Age will be found even deeper.
The walls are safely hidden from view: the island is low, and over the past centuries, sand has covered the buildings with a layer more than two meters deep. However, such “conservation” gives hope that during direct excavations, researchers will discover objects of a high degree of preservation.
To date, scientists have scanned about four thousand square meters and are now deciding which areas should be excavated first. This is a difficult question: if they want to get to the Iron Age layers, they will have to somehow disturb the Roman buildings.
Here it is necessary to turn slightly to the history of the study of the island. In the same settlement of Longis there is a Roman fort, but not a traditional castrum, but a small (approximately 30 meters in area) fortification made of round stones and Roman concrete. For a long time it was empty, and under the Tudors it became a nunnery.
At the same time, it was rather heavily rebuilt, so the hypothesis of a Roman origin remained unconfirmed for a long time. Its opponents logically noticed that the Romans had nothing to do on a small rocky island: they did not manage to master everything in Britain either.
But in 2011, archaeological excavations confirmed the presence of Roman architecture. The construction of the fort dates back to the 4th century AD – that is, shortly before the Roman legions left Britain.
Archaeological work in the area of the fort has continued, since last year they have been carried out by the charity Dig Alderney. Now its employees reported on new research results.
They explored parts of the southern and eastern walls of the large building under the fortified remains and the richly carved stone arch. The walls date back to the late Middle Ages or even to the Tudor era (1485-1603).
But the arch went so deep into the ground that so far it has not even been possible to determine what it refers to – a doorway or a window frame. It is most likely a Roman building.
Then the same question arises: what did the Romans of the 4th century forget on this island? Yes, geographically it is closer to the Norman coast than to the British. But so far, all dates of Roman artifacts refer to the period when Britain was part of the empire.
The fort and the settlement around it is a typical Roman provincial development. First, legionnaires came, built fortifications, then both colonists (in Britain they were most often merchants) and the local population were drawn to these fortifications.
The latter is easy to understand: forts were built where protection was required. And the locals were not at all against such shelter from possible raids.
But from whom it was necessary to build protection on Alderney? There is no evidence in the sources (primarily the Notitia Dignitatum ) that any Roman military unit was sent to the island. Then who built the fort? And what kind of large Roman settlement was discovered with the help of ground penetrating radar?
In general, it often happens that archaeological excavations raise more questions than they give answers. It remains to wait for the new season – perhaps then we will learn more about why the Roman Empire could not do without a small island in the English Channel.
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