We’re preparing to ‘Meet the Romans‘ at the museum in March, so here’s a short blog from our curator on St Neots’ Roman past.
What was life like in Roman St Neots? Well, thanks to major road building schemes along the A14 and the A428, coupled with new housing developments across the region, we’re discovering fascinating new information to help us build a better picture of our town in the Roman period, 43 – 410AD.
Recently published discoveries at Fenstanton (only eleven miles from St Neots) include the skeletons of both men and women who are thought to have been slaves working in a meat processing factory. One male skeleton in particular has been drawing international attention. Found with a nail through his heal, he is thought to bear evidence of crucifixion, the first example of this punishment ever recorded in the UK! Three other skeletons also showed signs of traumatic injury, having had both legs broken at some stage in their lives, another punishment usually reserved for slaves. The man who had been crucified also had wasted leg bones, suggesting that he may have been forced to wear leg shackles that limited his movements. What must local people have thought about the way people were being treated only a few miles away?
A patchwork of settlements
Over the years, local finds have revealed that the area around St Neots was a patchwork of small farms and growing settlements during the Roman period. New archaeological finds at Wintringham, just east of the old historic centre of St Neots, have revealed a network of tracks and Roman roads linking local people together, including a road to the important local Roman town of Durovigutum, (now Godmanchester). At Wintringham, archaeologists have excavated over 3,000 sherds of Roman pottery, as well as the bones of many farm animals, including cows, sheep, goats, pigs and horses.
Historic archaeological excavations in the 1960s provided early evidence that this area was increasingly densely settled by the Roman period. Iron Age buildings and Roman pottery found in the town centre of St Neots (on a site behind Cambridge Street, where Church View stands today) confirm that local Britons were already living here in their traditional round houses by the time of the Roman invasion in AD 43. Other early discoveries include a Roman villa with underfloor heating discovered close to the Conygeare in Eynesbury, and three stone coffins found in 1968 near the Duloe Road (Bilberry Close, Eaton Socon). The stone coffins reveal that some local families were wealthy enough to afford lavish burials.
Other finds in the villages surrounding St Neots reveal the growing local population during the Roman period, and include a substantial villa outside Great Staughton, and the Kimbolton Coin hoard of sixty-seven gold staters, both further evidence of the wealth of the area.