Archaeologists discover Britain’s first ‘shopping centre’ in Roman dig
One of Britain’s very first shopping centres has been unearthed – a high street that was fashionable 1,800 years ago when togas were still in vogue.
A row of narrow shop buildings uncovered by archaeologists shows that the Romans in Britain had their very own well-heeled fashionistas.
The shop buildings used by the stylish Romans in ancient Britain were uncovered by archaeologists in fields at Monmouthshire, South Wales.
The site, now occupied only by the rural village of Caerwent near Newport, was formerly Venta Silurum – one of 15 major towns in Britain at the time.
Crucially for archaeologist, unlike most of these 15 towns Venta Silurum did not stay important. Instead it declined – and so escaped the demolition, rebuilding and enlargement that have obliterated early remains elsewhere over the centuries.
Archaeologists say the surviving evidence show it was affluent and fashionable in Roman times, with wealthy villas in the suburbs.
A villa with painted walls and mosaic floors among the other finds also points to the town being home to wealthy Romans in the Third Century AD, when Venta Silurum was booming.
Archaeologist Tom Scott described the 44-acre site as ‘beautifully preserved’.
He said: ‘Discovering the shop buildings and the villa, it seems as if people lived here in some style.
‘The site appealed to us as it is one of the best preserved Roman towns in the UK.
‘This was a golden opportunity for us to find out more about it.’
A team of 50 worked on the excavation at the Roman site including members of Wessex Archaeology and volunteers from the local Chepstow Archaeology Society.
Seven trenches were dug at three different locations to uncover more about previously unexcavated parts of the town.
Long thin buildings were also found in several places – believed to be shop buildings on the high street.
Key finds included a penknife hilt of bone depicting two gladiators fighting.
Other artefacts uncovered included coins, glass, ceramics, human and animal bones, lead patches used for repairing, and bits of mosaic.
Mr Scott said: ‘This type of town was a “civitas capital” – a civilian town and centre of local Roman government – one of around 15 in the UK.
‘Most of these had later towns built on top so you can’t see the town walls, but Caerwent is beautifully preserved.’
Archaeologist Jacqueline McKinley said: ‘The large villa we found suggests this was a posh part of town.
‘We also found animal bones on the site which suggests that at least one of the high street shops was a butchers.
‘It looks as if the animal bones belonged to joints of meat that would have been displayed in the shop window.
‘It was a very successful dig and filled in some gaps in our knowledge of the ancient town.’