The map of the ancient Roman city of Verulamium will have to be redrawn after archaeologists made a series of surprising discoveries. Essential work by the National Grid to re-lay a gas pipe gave the archaeologists a rare opportunity to look underground at this nationally significant archaeological site.
Where they once thought there was only a crossroads, they found compelling evidence for the town house of a wealthy person, which may have featured mosaic flooring. An initial assessment of finds from above the floor suggests the building was demolished in the third century AD.
The team was also excited to find the corner of the city wall, but no evidence of a tower at this point, as previously expected. The absence of a corner tower is significant as may suggest that the city walls were built as much for show as for defensive purposes.
Simon West, District Archaeologist for St Albans City and District Council’s museums’ team, said: “As it turns out our map of the lay-out of Verulamium is not entirely accurate, so we may have to redraw it. We are learning new things all the time about our past.”
Verulamium was the third largest City in Roman Britain, and around half of it stood on the site of what is now Verulamium Park in St Albans. Remains of the walls, defensive ditch and a Roman villa’s hypocaust, a sort of central heating system, can still be seen.
Verulamium Museum on the edge of the park contains a range of exhibits and was established following excavations carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s. Items on display include coffins with skeletons, mosaic floors, coins, pottery, jewellery and cooking utensils.
Further major excavations were conducted by Sheppard Frere in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with later ones taking place under the current entrance to the museum. Much of the Verulamium site, which is classed as a Scheduled Monument, has remained relatively undisturbed for centuries.
Simon said: “Two of the holes have produced significant archaeology which is very exciting.
“One near the park’s running track has hit the very corner of the wall around the Roman city. There does not appear to be any evidence of a corner tower.
“At another hole, close to the museum car park, we have found evidence of the interior of a Roman town house with the remains of what is called an Opus Signinum floor. That is one made up of broken tiles and mortar.
“There are further mosaic pieces in the back fill of the old gas pipe.”