Pits as a Feature of Roman Sites

Hitherto excavations in Scotland have almost without exception been confined to the limits of the forts dealt with. The annexes which lie around them have not, as a rule, been systematically explored. This applies to the forts on the wall of Hadrian no less than to those in Scotland. Consequently the examination of the pits was somewhat of a novel feature. The work done at Bar Hill showed for the first time the possibilities offered by a proper investigation of these underground deposits. It is probable that in previous excavations pits within the forts were often passed over unrecognised. With a filling of clay above them, such as was found at Newstead, quite experienced workmen might easily be misled. Even where they were actually hit upon, as at Ardoch, it has not always been considered that they would repay the difficulty and expense of clearing them out. But we have evidence both in England and in Scotland which suggests that this feature is to be looked for normally on Roman sites. An early notice of such pits will be found in the notes to The Muses' Threnodie, published at Perth in 1774.[1] The writer records the discovery of urns and other objects of Roman origin on the north side of the river Almond, near its junction with the Tay, when the erosion of the bank had brought to light six 'semicircular pillars of earth,' about eighteen feet in height, from the surface of the ground to the bed of the river. The earth of which they were formed was of a dark hazel colour, quite distinct from the reddish colour of the surrounding clay. 'It was evident that round pits had been dug out, the urns deposited at the bottom, and filled up with a mixture of glutinous earth rammed down.' Similarly the formation of a railway cutting near Grahamston in 1850 appears to have brought to light some of the pits belonging to the Fort at Camelon. A number of these were noted eight to ten feet in diameter and twelve feet in depth.[2]

In England we have notices of pits of the same sort discovered in 1847 at Ewell in Surrey,[3] and of the investigation of a remarkable series of pits at Great Chesterford in Essex[4] in 1854 by the Hon. R. C. Neville. In the latter case forty pits were examined varying in depth from four feet to twenty-four feet. They were scattered all over the site. The bottoms were usually dry; only twice was water touched. Groups of three and

1 The Muses' Threnodie, by Mr. H. Adamson. New edition, with notes, by James Cant.

2 Stuart, Caledonia Romana, p. 357.

3 Archaeologia, vol. xxxii p. 451.

4 The Archaeological Journal, vol. xii. p. 109; vol. xiii. p. 1.