ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed evidence the site of Durham Cathedral may have been inhabited during Roman and even pre-historic times.
Durham’s famous peninsula, home to the Castle and Cathedral and a Unesco World Heritage Site, has been a place of Christian worship since at the least the 10th Century, when a “White Church” – the predecessor to the current 900-year-old Norman cathedral – was constructed to house St Cuthbert’s sacred remains.
Now experts digging under the Cathedral’s Great Kitchen have unearthed Roman pottery and a single pre-historic flint.
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Cathedral archaeologist Norman Emery said: “The pottery is very interesting because it makes you wonder if there could have been a Roman site here on the Cathedral peninsula.”
It has long been thought the area may have been occupied during pre-Cathedral times, as its natural peninsula offers an enviable position of strength and security.
But very little hard evidence had previously been found, much to the surprise of specialists.
Those excavating under the octagonal Great Kitchen, built in the 14th century by renowned mason John Lewyn, had hoped to find evidence of an earlier kitchen, which they were convinced must have existed to serve the monks’ refectory from the 11th century onwards.
But during a six-week dig, they have found not only walls from that long-lost kitchen – along with large amounts of medieval food waste – but also 13th century stained glass and two examples of third century Roman samian ware.
One, a doughnut shape, had been recycled to make a spindle whorl for spinning thread.
Archaeologists are reluctant to draw too many conclusions about what kind of settlement might have existed in Durham at the time, but the expensive, glossy red pottery was imported from southern France, suggesting inhabitants of some status and ambition.
The dig, which is now almost finished, was undertaken ahead of the Great Kitchen, formerly home to the Cathedral bookshop, being transformed into a world-class exhibition space under the £10m Open Treasure project. The Great Kitchen will become the new venue for the Treasures of St Cuthbert.
Archaeologists' discovery beneath Durham Cathedral could rewrite North-east history books
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