COUNTY Durham’s largest Roman fort has attracted archaeologists and volunteers from across the globe for a new series of excavations.

Dating back to the first century, the seven-hectare site at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland, is believed to have once housed several cohorts of Roman soldiers along with units of auxiliary cavalry.

During the course of a six-week dig, more than 60 volunteers from as far afield as California joined forces with UK archaeologists to dig deeper into its unexplored past - this time focusing their attentions on the northern end of the site left largely undisturbed over the centuries.

John Castling, community archivist at The Auckland Project, which is running the excavations with Durham County Council (DCC) and Northern Archaeological Associates, said: “There is huge potential for extensive buried archaeological remains at Binchester.

“We know the wider landscape around the site holds new insights, particularly regarding its early history and occupation at the end of the Roman period, and we are really looking forward to working to develop our campaign of investigations to bring these to light.”

The recent excavations have built on previous work to shine a spotlight on the early defences of Binchester and the development of the civilian settlement which sprang up along the road that exits the fort northwards.

This dig has revealed a well-preserved Roman road leading out of the north east gate of the later smaller fort with evidence of small-scale industrial buildings from the late Roman period on either side.

The team believes that a slump in areas of cobblestone surfacing, dating from the late 4th century, suggests the presence of one or more underlying ditches.

Further investigation will determine whether the ditches formed part of an original timber fort and accompanying ramparts, constructed at Binchester in AD 80.

Hundreds of fragments of Roman pottery were excavated alongside smaller items such as pieces of jet, potentially sourced from Whitby, a copper alloy statuette thought to be of Mars the Roman god of war, and a carved stone image of what could be a Romano-British deity.

Dr David Mason, DCC’s principal archaeologist, who is leading the work, said: “The discoveries made this summer have already made a significant contribution to our understanding of this part of the extensive Roman complex at Binchester.

“The road exiting the north east gate of the later fort has been shown to be very substantial, raising questions about what facilities it was servicing in the area beyond.

“Equally, confirmation of the line of the defences of the early fort is a very exciting discovery allowing a clearer idea of its size and layout to be determined.”

The finds will now be sent for further analysis, which is hoped will reveal more information about the Roman people who owned and used them.

More excavations are planned for the Durham County Council-managed site in the future.

For more information visit or