What’s on : Lectures

“Roman York beneath the Streets” Project update

17 Jan 2024
Start time
2:00 PM
Professor Martin Millett,  Emeritus Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge
"Roman York beneath the Streets" Project update

Event Information

“Roman York Beneath the Streets” Project Update

Professor Martin Millett,  Emeritus Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge

The nature and topography of Roman York (Eboracum) remains little known despite many centuries of research. Clearer knowledge is an essential prerequisite for comprehending both York’s role within the Roman world and its transformation into a new centre of power in the post-Roman period. This project has been developed in close collaboration with the City of York Council’s Historic Environment Record (HER), York Archaeological Trust (YAT) and the York Museums’ Trust (YMT) and following extensive discussions with other stake holders. It will capitalise on the results of past research, using state-of-the-art academic expertise to build a new foundation for future exploration and public engagement. This is particularly timely given current plans for enhancing existing museum displays and the development of a new Roman visitor centre in the city.

The project will develop a new approach to understanding the Roman city, integrating the large amounts of data from past Antiquarian research and previous archaeological excavation with a new programme of fieldwork. This will deploy Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey in both open areas (for instance around the Minster) and along the streets within the City to map buried deposits. We will also be studying material in museum collections in order to provide a clearer understanding of the development of Roman York and its environs.

Lecture to be held in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Theatre, Yorkshire Museum,
YO1 7DR at 2pm.   PLEASE NOTE THE 2pm starting time for this lecture.

Member’s report:

YPS members will already be familiar with the Roman York beneath the Streets project from the article by Professor Martin Millet in the Annual Report of 2022. As the project nears its end Professor Millet in his role as principal investigator spoke of the aims of the project and its findings thus far. Much of the previous work on Roman York can be found in the Royal Commission of 1962 which in turn was based on the work of Ian Richmond in the 1940s. Since then, ideas on the Roman Empire have changed radically and the aim of the team was to bring together all previous fragmentary information of Roman York into one single database. This would include a full review of all antiquarian records and link them with the objects found, constructing a digital map and updating the deposit model to reveal the underlying shape.

In this latter aim, the team has been assisted using ground penetrating radar which involves hitting a pulse of radium on the ground which reflects back any changes in density in the soil. This was used in particular in the area around the Minster. Although the team did not uncover massive evidence from the Roman Period, it was possible to detect the outlines of what is thought to be Roman barracks underneath a major mediaeval building near the Deanery. Thus, despite the great depth of the Roman remains the team was able to find evidence of Roman York by this method and without using more traditional archaeological means.

In addition, the team was aware of the cemeteries in Trentholme Drive along with other Roman Burials in York, both cremations and inhumations, of which there are up to 1000 in total. So far, they have shown a strong bias towards male burials. Compared with other Roman settlements in Britain there is not a great deal of evidence for major buildings in York, but it is important to establish what York does and does not have and to work out patterns of distribution of the artefacts. Currently the team is ‘playing’ with all the evidence and is due to report by Easter. It is anticipated that the complete database will be available to the public by the second half of 2024. There will also be an Art and Sound exhibition by Rose Ferraby showing how artists respond to the investigation.

Dorothy Nott