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A Roman Timber Bridge at Aldwincle, Northamptonshire

  • D. A. Jackson (a1), T. M. Ambrose (a1), N.J. Sunter, P.J. Woods, J.G. Evans, L. Biek and R.A. Harcourt...


In the late autumn of 1968 gravel-quarrying at Aldwincle, Northants., brought to light a timber bridge of the Roman period. The working face of the gravel-pit fortunately coincided with one side of the bridge, and thereby exposed the structure in section (PL. IX A). Excavation of the bridge was carried out by D. A. Jackson during the winter of 1968/9 under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Public Building and Works.



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1 This report also includes contributions from Miss J. Bayley and Messrs. F. W. Anderson, L. Biek, J. G. Evans, R. A. Harcourt and G. C. Ilsley. To these specialists the writers desire to record their thanks.

2 Thanks are also due to Miss S. A. Butcher for visiting the site and arranging financial aid. Gratitude must also be expressed to the sole full-time helper, Mr. G. Clayson, and to Dr. J. Alexander and Messrs. R. Eady, T. Whitehead and R. Hollowell for their valuable assistance. The illustrations in the report have been produced by Mrs. C. Boddington, Mrs. D. Miller, Mr. D. Neal and Mr. J. Thorne at the Ancient Monuments Drawing Office. The pottery drawings are the work of Mr. R. Turland. A photographic record was made by Messrs. G. Cook, A. Rollings and others.

3 National Grid Reference: SP 999801.

4 I. D. Margary, Roman roads in Britain (1967).

5 A section of the road was revealed by roadworks at this point in 1966.

6 The records and finds have been placed in Northampton museum.

7 Johnston, D. E. and Jackson, D. A., Journ. of Northants Nat. Hist. Soc. xxxiv (1963), 188–90.

8 Webster, G., Britannia i (1970), 179–93 and figs. 1, 2.

9 H. J. M. Green, ‘Roman Godmanchester’, in W. J. Rodwell and T. Rowley (eds), Small Towns of Roman Britain (1975), 183–210.

10 Hebditch, M. and Mellor, J., Britannia iv (1973), 183.

11 I. D. Margary, Roman Roads in Britain (1967), 210–12.

12 For illustrations see K. Saatman, E. Jüngst, P. Thielscher, ‘Caesars Rheinbrücke’, Bonner Jahrbücher (1938–9), Taf 3, 27 and 29.

13 For translation of text and discussion see Bungard, J. A., ‘Caesar's Bridges over the Rhine’, A.A. Copenh. 36 (1965), 87104. A possible reconstruction in Bonn museum is shown in PL. X B.

14 K. Saatman et al., op. cit. (note 12), Taf 27, Abb 1 and Taf 27, Abb 3.

15 The timber bridge at Fishbourne had a similar span of 11 ft.; Cunliffe, B. W., Excavations at Fishbourne, Vol. 1, The Site (1971), 46.

16 Saatman et. al., op. cit. (note 12), the right-hand bridge in Taf 3, Abb. 1.

17 Cunliffe, op. cit. (note 15).

18 Mr. Evans suggests (p. 67) in his study of the mollusca that there appears always to have been a sharp distinction between river and dry land.

19 Matherat, G., ‘La Technique des Ponts-de-Fascines de César’, Revue Archéologique, Section 6, Vol. 9 (1937), 3862.

20 RCHM, Eboracum, Vol.1 (1962), 64.

21 op. cit. (note 13).

22 Lambert, F., Archaeologia lxxi (19201921), 5572.

23 Rigold, S. E., Arch. Journ. 126 (1969), 90–2.

24 Tatton-Brown, T., Trans. London and Middlesex Arch. Soc. 25 (1974), 124.

25 Lambert, op. cit. (note 22), 63.

26 RCHM, Dorset South-East, Part iii, 590 and Bradley, R., Archaeologia cv (1976), 43ff.

27 Saatman et al., op. cit. (note 12); in Taf 3, Abb 1 a simple construction is shown on both bridges where the bridging timbers directly support the road-surface, as opposed to the bridges in Taf 27, Abb 1 and Abb 3, in which bridging beams support transverse spars which in turn support the road.

28 Saatman et al., op. cit. (note 12), Taf 29, Abb 2.

29 Matherat, op. cit. (note 19).

30 Caesar, , B.G. iv, 17.

31 In describing the Romano-British pottery from Aldwincle the following conventions have been observed. (a) Degree of hardness: — soft: readily marked with the finger-nail; hard: not easily scratched except with a knife. (b) Surface colour (Study Group for Romano-British Coarse Pottery colour-chart equivalents):— oatmeal (Green-Brown 7); buff (Brown B6); buff-orange (Yellow-Brown A6); buff-brown (Brown B5); orange-brown (Red-Brown B5); reddish-brown (Red-Brown B3); dark brown (Yellow-Brown A3); grey (Neutral 7); dark bluish-grey (Neutral 4); dark grey (Neutral 3) and black (Neutral 2).

32 Method. A section was cut from each sherd on a Unicutta rock-slicing machine, to permit microscopical examination by reflected light (i.e. not petrographic) of the interior unweathered fabric of the pottery. This machine has a diamond-dusted blade and with the use of fresh continuous-flow coolant no contamination to the specimens was noted in subsequent study. Magnification of ×200 was chosen as the minimum needed to provide a visual identification of the groundmass texture, cavities and mineral inclusions. Experimentation also revealed that this was the minimum enlargement for a meaningful estimate of proportion of the total area studied occupied by a particular feature.

Descriptions. For uniformity, the specimens are described in terms of: (a) colour, texture and lustre of the groundmass; (b) shape, size and percentaged proportion occupied by cavities within the total section-area studied; (c) colour, shape, constitution, size and percentaged proportion occupied by inclusions within the total section area studied; (d) response of inclusions and groundmass to treatment with cold diluted hydrochloric acid for an indication of the calcium carbonate content; (e) flow structures, where well-marked.

The microscopical examination was carried out by G. V. Ilsley of the Earth Sciences section at the Northampton College of Education as part of a wider programme of research into the Romano-British pottery of the upper Nene Valley and neighbouring areas. Mr. Ilsley is also responsible for the comparative study of sherds (a) C1 and C2; (b) C4, C5 and L1; and (c) L3 and M1 and the discussion relating to B1.

33 P. J. Woods, Excavations at Brixworth, Northants, 1965–1970 (Northampton 1972), 21–22 and fig. 22, no. 146.

34 M Gillam, Types, 115–17.

35 Gillam, Types, 226–27.

36 Woods op. cit. (note 33), 26 and Fig. 34, Nos. 245–46.

37 Ibid., fig. 34, No. 244.

38 Johnston, D. E., ‘Romano-British Pottery Kilns near Northampton’, Antiq. Journ. xlix (1969). 7597.

39 British Museum, Guide to the Antiquities of Roman Britain (London 1966).

40 Hall, D. N., Beds. Arch. J. viii (1973), 6791.

41 Hartley, B. R., Notes on the Roman Pottery Industry in the Nene Valley (Peterborough 1960).

42 Unfortunately, it was not possible to undertake this work in the time available. The results of a more detailed examination of this vessel and similar material from other sites in the upper Nene Valley will appear as a separate paper.

43 L. Biek, Archaeology and the Microscope (1963), 225.

44 A. J. Thomasson, in D. A. Jackson et al. (forthcoming), A Bronze Age Barrow at Earls Barton, Northants.

45 A. J. Thomasson et al. (forthcoming), Soils and Land Drainage (Soil Survey Monograph), Chapter 7. C. A. H. Hodge in R. F. Smith (forthcoming), A Roman Settlement at Earith, Cambs.

46 Sparks, B. W. (1961), ‘The ecological interpretation of Quarternary non-marine Mollusca’, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 172, 7180.

47 Sparks, B. W., and Lambert, C. A. (1961), ‘The Post-glacial deposits at Apethorpe, North amptonshire’, Proceedings of the Malacological Society, 34, 302–15.

48 Ellis, A. E. (1951), ‘Census of the distribution of British non-marine Mollusca’, Journal of Conchology 23, 171244.

49 Biek, L. and Cox, T. R. G. in ‘Problems of the Conservation of Waterlogged Wood’, Maritime Monographs and Reports No. 16 (1975), 25–6.

50 B. B. Christensen in Conservation of Wooden Objects (1971), 30.

51 J. F. Levy and H. Greaves, BWPA News Sheet No. 68 (1966).

52 J. F. Levy in Proc. First Internat. Biodeter. Symp. (1968), 424–8.

53 Greenfield, E., Lincs. Hist. and Arch. i (1971), 39, 46.

54 L. Biek, Archaeology and the Microscope (1963), 144 ff.

55 E. Greenfield, forthcoming.

56 L. Biek, Archaeology and the Microscope (1963), pl. 110.

57 L. Biek in Brothwell and Higgs (eds), Science in Archaeology (1969), 569 and pl. xxix a, b.

58 L. Biek, Archaeology and the Microscope (1963), 143, 157.

59 Specification 1974, 1–27, 1–29, 1–32.

60 Ralph, E. K. et al. , ‘Radiocarbon dates and reality’, MASCA Newsletter (University of Pennsylvania) Vol. 9 (1973), No. 1.


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