high-quality Roman roof-tiles at St Helena School

On Monday (10th November), Trust archaeologists Ben Holloway and Emma Holloway made a new discovery on our site at St Helena School in Colchester. They uncovered some fragments of cream-coloured Roman roof-tiles. During the week, as they continued to excavate the site, they realised that there were actually two deposits of the tiles. One deposit seemed to have been dumped in a shallow pit and the other was lying next to a previously-unknown wall foundation. The school stands on the site of a Romano-Celtic temple, which was excavated in 1935 ahead of the building of the school. The Trust has also undertaken various projects here over the years, so we know quite a lot about the temple and what to expect when we investigate the site. However, it is always possible to make new discoveries. It is very interesting to uncover ancient remains, even when we know that they are there – but new discoveries are really exciting!

The two deposits of fragmentary Roman roof-tiles are extremely interesting. They consist of unusual, high-quality, cream-coloured Roman roof-tiles. Roman roof-tiles are usually made of red clay, and we excavate large quantities of fragments of these red Roman roof-tiles in Colchester. Finds of cream-coloured tile fragments are unusual in the town and suggest, therefore, a special building. They probably derive from the temple itself and they provide significant new information about it. The previously-unknown wall foundation is also extremely interesting. It seems to have formed part of a very small secondary building within the temple precinct, probably a shrine.

The temple here was the largest of at least four temples in this area. It was square and was set within a large gravelled precinct which, we think, was surrounded by a very high perimeter wall, built on stone foundations. The temple also seems to have stood on a mound which was created to give it more prominence. There was at least one secondary building, the probable shrine, within the precinct. All these elements suggest an important temple. During this excavation we have collected evidence from the top to the bottom of the temple complex here, from fragments of roof-tiles to the foundation of the probable shrine, and our new evidence supports all the previous evidence. We know that this temple was dedicated to Jupiter, the supreme god of the Romans. Jupiter was the god of the sky and light, and of the Roman empire, and he wielded the power of life and death.  So it isn’t surprising that the high-status temple complex which stood here was dedicated to Jupiter…

We finished excavating yesterday, and we will complete our work on the site next Monday. During the excavation, some Year 3 students at the school helped with metal-detecting our spoil-heap and with trowelling on the site; two of the students are so keen that they are planning to come to Roman Circus House to process finds in their Christmas holiday!

The images show the site with one of the school blocks in the background, and Emma cleaning a stone with one of the areas of roof-tile in the foreground.


St H site











St H tile













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