AN “EXCEPTIONAL” ancient Roman site has been discovered in woodland near Peterborough. Despite numerous digs and excavations across the region over the past two centuries, the huge site, hidden deep in woods at Bedford Purlieus, had miraculously gone unnoticed.
Early work has only scratched the surface of the Roman remains, but indications have left experts stunned by how well preserved the remains, of what appears to be a building of some importance, are.
Forestry Commission District Operations Manager, Hugh Manall said: “It’s unusual for us to find a site of this significance that we didn’t realise was there. Generally, sites as good as this are known about.”
Experts believe the remains at the site, just off the A47 at Wansford, near Peterborough, probably date back to between the second and fourth centuries AD.
Excavations have been taking place at three areas in the woods thanks to funding from Augean Ltd’s landfill tax and Peterborough City Council.
City council archeologist Ben Robinson described the find as “exceptional”.
He said: “I’ve not seen a Roman building as well preserved as this. The work we have done has shown we have got a building of quite some importance, with all the features of a high-status Roman site. This was something big and impressive.”
Luxuries included in the building were heating and paintings hung on the wall.
And, because the site has been hidden in a forest, it has remained virtually undisturbed.
Mr Robinson said: “We’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more to be discovered.
“But we have to be mindful that sites like this are rare and we shouldn’t destroy them by digging them up. We also have to be careful about the wildlife and rare plants in the forest, but I really hope we will get to do more there.
“The thing about this is people have been carrying out archaeological digs in this area for the best part of 200 years. You would think that with the amount of work that has gone on that everything has been discovered. This shows that’s far from the case, we’re getting new finds on a weekly basis.
“This area is a very, very exciting place to do archaeology.”
It was only a chance discovery that led archaeologists to the site. For 44 years forest craftsman Ricky Hannah worked in the woodland without ever noticing the massive remains.
Until one day in 2005, astonished Ricky suddenly spotted a strange rectangular lump.
He called in experts, who initially thought it was a 2,000 year-old travellers’ stop-over complete with bedrooms, baths and steam rooms – so it was nicknamed “Ricky’s Motel”.
It is only after months of careful excavation that it has finally been confirmed that the find is actually Roman remains.
Speaking at the time of the discovery, Mr Hannah said: “I first noticed a lump and thought, well that looks like a corner. I followed the line and found another, and another, and another.
“Then I looked up and saw the site spreading out all around me up to 80 metres away.
“The managers wanted us be able to spot things that might turn out to be ancient remains. And blow me, after a while you find checking the ground for interesting lumps and bumps becomes addictive.”