Dig it! exhibition  –  Daily bulletin four of ten

Didn’t visit the excavations at the Mercury Theatre? Well now’s your chance to see some of the finds.

What we saw at the Mercury Theatre site was dramatic and stark, a snapshot of Roman Colchester at the end of its life. Masses of brightly painted wall plaster littered over the floors of abandoned, roofless houses. But we needed to reconstruct the evidence in our heads to get a fuller picture.
The tiles were deliberately and methodically stripped from the roofs and stacked in neat piles on the floors for transportation elsewhere. We could tell this because an unwanted stack of them had been left behind in one of the rooms. Somebody had been busy and clearly life ‘Roman-style’ continued among the ruins, at least for a while.

Stack of roof tiles on the tessellated floor. Eventually the stack fell on its side.

With the houses and their walls fully exposed to the elements, soon the wall plaster started to decay and fall in chunks on to the floors. Helped by the wind and rain, dead leaves and twigs began to collect on the floors and decayed to leave rich soil in their place. Weeds and trees started to grow and decay as gradually more and more topsoil accumulated. This process quite probably lasted for many decades until the walls themselves started to collapse.

We found a small Anglo-Saxon coin in the topsoil. This was minted over 200 years after the end of Roman Colchester. Clearly, the town was not deserted. It’s extremely unlikely it ever was.

Anglo-Saxon coin found in the topsoil which had accumulated on the floor of one of the rooms.