Specialist Reports

Introduction | Index of Specialist Reports | Project Description

Suburban life in Roman Durnovaria: Excavations at the former County Hospital Site, Dorchester, Dorset 2000–2001

Suburban life in Roman Durnovaria: Excavations at the former County Hospital Site, Dorchester, Dorset 2000–2001 is a new Wessex Archaeology publication that presents the results of these important excavations. Evidence for prehistoric activity is summarised and the development of the town and its changing layout through time are examined. Finds and environmental evidence are used to examine the activities that were being undertaken in the town. This section of the website contains the specialist reports and selected plans of the site.


A scheme to regenerate the County Hospital site led to a series of archaeological excavations in autumn 2000–1, enabling the south-western corner of the Roman town of Durnovaria to be examined. Numerous small-scale excavations have been undertaken in the past within the Roman town together with some larger-scale excavations. Despite this work gaps in our knowledge of street layout and the town plan remained. The opportunity to examine a reasonably large area of this part of the town was therefore of some importance.

Suburban life in Roman Durnovaria: Excavations at the former County Hospital Site,

Dorchester, Dorset 2000–2001

The book describes the results of the excavations, illustrating the development of buildings beside the Roman street. Amongst the stunning finds from the site are the beautiful mosaics, which have been painstakingly painted and described by Stephen R. Cosh, rare and exquisitely carved bone hairpins, and a gold ring. Other more mundane finds, have enable archaeologists to examine the everyday lives of the inhabitants. The environmental remains suggest that foodstuffs such as grain, wine or grapes and lentils were being imported from the continent. An important deposit of allec, a fish sauce, was also uncovered. The pottery from the site also sheds light on local industries as well as imported wares.

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Index of Specialist Reports

1. Stratigraphic description of selected buildings and structures, by Mike Trevarthen

Building 4
Building 8
Building 9
Aisled Building 12
This report provides a more detailed description of selected buildings from the excavations.


2. Wood charcoal, by Catherine Barnett (neé Chisham)

This report provides evidence for the types of wood being used in selected contexts. Wood from Oven 1470 seems to have been largely mature oak, which was damp when burnt. This may have been selected deliberately to increase the smoke to act as a flavouring.

3. Charred plant remains, by Chris Stevens

Charred plant remains from the site are summarised and discussed within the context of Roman Durnovaria. The possibility of some crops (grain and lentils for example) being imported from the continent is also discussed.

4. Eggshell, by Jane Sidell

Eggshell from selected contexts was examined and found to be of goose and hens.

5. Marine shell, by Sarah F. Wyles

The different marine species represented are summarised and their likely sources are discussed.

6. Fish bone from selected contexts, by Sheila Hamilton-Dyer

This report examines the fish bone evidence from selected contexts. The remains represent allec, a sauce made from small intact fish. This important find is discussed and comparative material summarised.

7. Animal bone, by Jessica M. Grimm

The faunal remains from the site are quantified and discussed by period. Information relating to animal husbandry within the town is discussed together with the evidence for wild species. The distribution of bone across the site and between feature types is discussed.


8. Pottery, by Rachael Seager Smith

The pottery from the excavations is quantified and discussed within the context of Roman Durnovaria. Interesting evidence for lighting (lamps, Tazza and candlesticks) is also presented.

9. The samian pottery, by J.M. Mills and the samian potters’ stamps, by Brenda Dickinson and J.M. Mills

The samian pottery is presented and discussed within its local context. Differences between the areas excavated were noted. An appendix provides details of the decorated samian. A catalogue of the samian potters’ stamps is provided.

10. Mortar and opus signium, by Kayt Brown

A summary of the mortar and opus signium is presented. Details of the opus signium-lined room in Building 8 are provided.

11. Painted plaster, by Kayt Brown

This summary report provides a quantification of the painted plaster, with details of some of the decorative schemes presented.

12 Ceramic Building Material (CBM), by Kayt Brown

A summary of the various types of ceramic building material found on the site is presented.

13. Mosaics Buildings 13 and 6, by Stephen R. Cosh

The mosaics from two of the Buildings are described in detail and a reconstruction of the design of the mosaic from Building 13 is presented. The superb paintings by Stephen Cosh are reproduced.

14. Glass, worked bone, shale and metalwork, by Matt Leivers

Detailed catalogues of the finds are presented together with a discussion of each category of material.

15. A late Roman coin hoard, by Nicholas Cooke

This report presents the evidence for the late Roman coin hoard and discusses it in the context other hoards found in the vicinity. The significance of these finds and the nature of the late Roman activity of the area is also discussed.

16. Human bone, by Jacqueline I. McKinley

A summary of the human remains is presented.

17. Flint, by Matt Leivers

The flint from the excavations is quantified and the assemblage has been characterised.

Project Description

Excavations at the former County Hospital site, Dorchester have provided a rare opportunity to examine a reasonably large area of the south-western corner of the Roman town of Durnovaria. The results of the excavations have allowed the development of this part of the Roman town to be established more fully. The remains of several buildings, including a late Roman town house complete with fine mosaics, was recovered. Other structures, working areas and probable barns were also identified.

The excavations produced a wealth of artefactual evidence shedding light on the daily lives and activities of the inhabitants of the town. Imported items such as pottery were recovered together with some of the foodstuffs that may also have been brought from the continent. Important evidence for allec or fish sauce was recovered; this is the furthest west it has been found in the Roman Empire and one of only a few examples of this foodstuff from Britain. Other possible imported items include wine or vine fruits, olive oil, grain and lentils. Local produce and commodities were also consumed and used within the town including foodstuffs, livestock and regionally produced pottery and items such as shale. The evidence from previous excavations in the vicinity has also been used to set the results into context.

The excavations generated immense local interest and the open day proved so popular that many people queued for hours for a glimpse of the beautiful mosaics, buildings and artefacts revealed. With this in mind the results of the excavations are presented in the publication in a less formal manner than is usual for archaeological reports and we have included many photographs and images to allow a broader understanding of the archaeology to be conveyed. Technical reports on aspects of the results (selected stratigraphic descriptions), the finds end environmental reports are available on this website.

The excavations were undertaken in 2000-2001 by Wessex Archaeology and were funded by the developers Bentleigh Cross Ltd and monitored by CgMs consulting Ltd.