This week, the Trust began a fieldwork project at St Helena School in Colchester. On Monday (27th October), Trust archaeologists Ben Holloway and Emma Holloway laid out a trench and erected safety fencing there. Yesterday, they monitored the soil-stripping of the site and, today, they began to excavate features. The fieldwork is a continuation of two projects which we undertook at the school in April and September 2013 – an evaluation and the excavation of twelve pits for the foundation pads of a new awning at the school. During the evaluation, we conducted a preliminary investigation of four small Roman pits and uncovered an area of loose gravelling which probably represents the surface of the temenos (precinct) of one of the Romano-Celtic temples here. This area of loose gravelling is similar to the loose gravelling which we excavated in the 1970s at the Balkerne Lane site. There, the gravelling was associated with a Romano-Celtic temple which stood outside the Balkerne Gate and was also enclosed within a walled precinct.
St Helena School is built on a very important, scheduled archaeological site. The site includes the sites of at least four Romano-Celtic temples, each of which was enclosed within a walled precinct. The main building of the school was constructed on the site of the largest of the four temples, which is also the largest known Romano-Celtic temple in Colchester. This temple was dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter*. The four Roman pits which we began to investigate further today all lie within the precinct of this temple. All four of them contain fragments of Roman building materials, and one seems to be full of fragments of Roman roof-tile. One of these roof-tile fragments, from a tegula, includes a hole. This is very unusual and interesting. It suggests that this fragment of tile derives from a chimney, although Romano-Celtic temples are not usually associated with chimneys! However, we think that there were secondary buildings within the precinct of this largest temple of the group, so perhaps one of these buildings included a chimney. This largest temple dates to the late 1st/early 2nd century, and it was excavated by the Colchester Excavation Committee (later the Colchester Archaeological Trust) in 1935, ahead of the building of the school which opened in 1938.
We are at very start of this fieldwork, so we will be able to provide much more information as it progresses. The Trust has undertaken a number of projects at St Helena School over the years: all our reports on fieldwork projects are published online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk . See other items about our work at St Helena School on this web-site.
The images show Emma working on the site, and the fragment of roof-tile with a large hole.
* Jupiter was the Roman king of the gods and the god of the sky and thunder. He was the principal deity of Roman state religion, and he was associated with the thunderbolt (his weapon) and the eagle (his sacred animal), which became the predominant symbol of the Roman army.