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Dorset grave site reveals dark side of Romans
WITH their central heating, fancy flooring, hot and cold running water and drinkable wine, it’s not hard to see what the Romans did for us.
And 2,000 years on, as we unearth pots, jewellery and the footings of luxury villas, as well as continuing to use the roads and aqueducts they built for us, it seems their PR machine is still cranking out the good publicity.
But it wasn’t all mosaics, music and orgies because the Romans had their dark side. Before they started building cities, creating parks and installing decent lavvies, they first took time to butcher many of our ancestors.
And, as has been revealed this week, one of those mass killings appears to have taken place right here in Dorset.
Not a lot is known about the Durotriges Celtic Tribe, whose name means ‘water dwellers’. But thanks to the Oxford Archaeology team we now know that at least 45 of them met an horrific end on Ridgeway Hill, near Weymouth, quite possibly at the hands of the Roman invaders, before being shoved into a pit.
That pit is now being excavated as part of the project to build the Weymouth Relief Road for the 2012 Olympics and was discovered after a hedge was torn up and bulldozers moved in.
Project manager David Score said: “We have counted 45 skulls so far; there are several in one section of the pit and several torsos and leg bones in separate sections of the pit."
He said it was rare to find a burial pit like this and that it was likely that the remains were deposited due to ‘a catastrophic event’ such as war, disease or execution.
The area is not far from Maiden Castle, a stronghold of the Iron Age tribes and where the Durotriges were understood to have made a brave stand against the Roman general, Vespasian.
The bones will go away for analysis before being returned to Dorset but are a reminder of the county’s links to the ancient civilisation.
Unlike places such as Chichester, with its magnificent villa, or Bath with its, er, Roman Baths, Dorset may not at first appear to have many premier league Roman remains.
But don’t be fooled. The county was turned into a hive of industry for the invading force which arrived at Poole harbour all those centuries ago.
They set up a port at Hamworthy, a 40-acre camp at Lake near Wimborne and a giant pottery works at Wareham; the Bestwall Quarry site which took 12 years to yeild up its amazing secrets – and thousands of bits of pottery.
They liked the look of Dorchester; the remains of a town house can still be seen there today and in 1936, 22,000 coins were discovered on the site of the Marks & Spencer’s store.
There are remains of settlements at Woodhouse Hill, near Studland and villas at Fifehead Neville, Hinton St Mary, Iwerne Minster, East Creech and Bucknowle. Shapwick had a Roman fort and naturally there is a Roman road, from Badbury to Old Sarum.
Roman remains can be found at most museums in the area but the most eye-catching are the 12 Roman mosaics at the county museum in Dorchester. Two can still be walked on to give that authentic, Roman feel.
You can even, if you believe in the supernatural, witness the presence of a Roman centurion whose ghost is said to appear at Thorncombe Wood, beside the old road to Dorchester from Badbury Rings. And more than one witness has seen a Phantom Roman Army, marching over Bindon Hill.