Students on a field trip discovered extensive remains between the Roman fort and the river Usk. Helen Morgan from Abergavenny Local History Society reports
Cardiff students learning to use geophysical equipment as part of their Surveying and Prospection module were amazed when they discovered the outlines of large Roman buildings on the banks of the river Usk.
They were working outside the fort at Caerleon (Castra Legiones) in an area not thought to have been extensively occupied. Known originally as Isca (from the Brythonic word Wysg meaning water) Caerleon was one of three permanent legionary fortresses in Britain and in use from AD75 for around 200 years.
The initial findings included baths and temples. Then the students and their tutors found the buried outline of a series of monumental buildings between the amphitheatre and the river. “We can only guess what it was for, but at the moment we are working on the idea that it had something to do with a harbour on the river,” said Dr Peter Guest, of Cardiff University. “On the other hand, it does look uncannily like a residential villa — if that is the case it was built on a palatial scale.” Either way, one question puzzling archaeologists is why surveys have found no evidence for the presence of a large civilian population. “Here at Caerleon we seem to have the central public spaces without the surrounding city. Where are the people who would have used these buildings?”
Archaeologists say the potential discovery of a 2,000-year-old harbour sheds new light on Wales’s role in the Roman Empire. The remains are said to be well preserved and include a quay wall, landing stages and wharves.
Caerleon connected upstream with the hillier parts of Wales, including Roman settlements in Abergavenny and Brecon, and downstream out to sea and the Loire Valley, Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean right into the heart of the Roman world, as well to ports along the Channel and London.
“It is incredible to think that this is the place where the men who took part in the conquest would have arrived,” added Dr Guest. “Caerleon still has so much to tell us about the conquest and pacification of the native tribes in western Britain and the formation of Roman Britannia almost 2,000 years ago.”