A Roman Temple Rediscovered

A Roman Temple Rediscovered – In 1880 Joseph Robinson, a Maryport bank manager and amateur archaeologist, discovered the remains of a Roman  temple under farm land near Maryport.

This resulted in what we would interpret as community engagement in the form of a number of townspeople heading out to explore the site with sounding rods and spades. Many of the resulting finds were added to the Netherhall Collection that is now on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum.

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The site of the Roman temple remained open to the elements for 30 years following the excavation and gradually deteriorated. Stones from what was left of the walls of the building disappeared and weeds overwhelmed the site. Eventually it was covered over and was lost to the world with the exception of a few grainy black and white photographs, and a hand drawn plan. Joseph Robinson himself left Maryport and disappeared into the wilds of London.

Many years later and the temple was located by the new science of archaeological geophysical survey. In 2000 the Senhouse Museum Trust commissioned a survey of 150 acres of farmland where the Roman fort and civilian settlement at Maryport can be seen today. Buildings, roads, ditches, furnaces and wells were revealed without disturbing the archaeology with a sounding rod or spade.

In 2013 a research excavation by the Museum and Newcastle University excavated the site where Robinson located the building that became known as the ‘Robinson Temple’. Was the building really a temple and what was left of it? Thanks to the science of geophysical survey the excavation discovered the building in the first week of digging by the archaeology students and local volunteers. They went on to reveal the remains of the foundations and the fallen back wall of a small classical Roman temple with a portico facing the Solway Coast to the north east.

Finds associated with the building were rare due to Robinson’s earlier work, but what appeared to be a ‘foundation deposit’ of animal bones were recovered from a ditch underneath the wall of the temple. Near the end of the excavation what was considered to be the star find was revealed to be an exquisite ground glass intaglio from a ring. Later the intaglio was confirmed to have come from a ring worn by a follower of the philosopher Zeno. This is one of very few to have been found in the Roman Empire. Following conservation and recording by Historic England, the intaglio was returned to the Museum and Maryport.

The Temple was declared the most northerly classical Roman temple.

More can be found out about Joseph Robinson, his discoveries and the 2011-2015 excavations at the Senhouse Roman Museum. The excavation report, A Cult Centre on Rome’s North-West Frontier by Professor Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott, is also available from the Museum.


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