Possible Roman settlement (Rothwell Haigh)

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A possible Roman settlement was uncovered in Rothwell Haigh when, in 1977, the West Yorkshire County Archaeology Unit excavated a site at what was then Rothwell Colliery, and what is now Rothwell Country Park.

While there was little evidence of the settlement itself, there was evidence of human activity on the site from the late 2nd to the early 3rd century, and being abandoned at the earliest in late 3rd century. On the site, a Roman well was found, which had been filled with lots of material, including a rare yew bucket, an unusual quern disc roughout, roman pottery, building materials, leather items, animal parts and a human skull.[1]

Excavation of the Site

In August 1977, over 5 days, the West Yorkshire County Archaeology Unit excavated a "ditched rectangular enclosure" at Rothwell Colliery (approx. grid reference SE 352 295 or SE 352 297[footnotes 1]) , which is now the site of Rothwell Country Park. Further excavations were carried out in September and October of the same year.[1]

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The approximate locations of the excavation site.

Conclusion from the excavation

Despite there being little evidence of a settlement found, the archaeologists presume there must have been a domestic occupation of the site at some point, on the basis of the evidence of human activity at the site from "at least the late 2nd to early 3rd century, with its abandonment in the late 3rd century at the earliest". Some important finds were discovered including a rare yew bucket, an ash spade that showed evidence of specialist manufacture, local leather-working that followed trends popular in Britain and on the Continent, an disk roughout in an unusual rural situation, modest evidence of food remains and clear evidence of some form of animal husbandry and butchery. Some items found also indicated that they were not casually discarded but were structured deposits with a lost but particular meaning. [1]

Roman-era well

The most significant finding from the excavation was that of a Roman-era well. The well was 12.3-12.6m deep and approximately 2m wide. Like the well found in Dalton Parlours villa in Wetherby, it had been cut through bedrock. However, due to the lack of evidence for the contemporary ground surface level, the team were unable to determine the true height of the well as some of it may have been destroyed before the excavation. The archaeology unit emptied the well in its entirety and found that it was "damp to c. 5.5m, wet from 5.5m to just over 7m and thereafter, waterlogged." Throughout the well there were building debris, from a few structural stones to ceramic and stone tiles.[1]


The pottery found consisted mainly of pieces that would have been used to prepare and eat food. The pottery indicated that the well was in-use as early as the late 2nd century or early 3rd century, with "subsequent infilling indicates a date in the late 3rd century at the earliest, with rapid infilling in the early to mid-4th century". [1]

Samian ware

Roman samian ware
An example of Roman samian ware - not those found on site.

There were eleven samian sherds found at the excavation site, nine of which were found within the well. One sherd was dated to AD 120-160, while the rest was dated to the second half of the 2nd century and the 3rd century. Slightly less than half of the sherd were East Gaulish fabrics, while the rest was Central Gaulish vessels. By the time the well was being filled in (late 3rd - early 4th century), samian ware was no longer being imported into Britain.[1]


There was only a small amount of metalwork found in the well, most of which was generally fragmentary iron nails.

There was however, an item which puzzled the archaeologists as it "does not resemble any of the normal metals in use during the Roman period" and was initially though to be a bone. The item was found in the bottom waterlogged part of the well, where it had been eroded so much that there were holes through it. The expert on the metalwork ruled out iron and lead alloy, but could not be certain that it was not a copper alloy or silver. It is possible the item was part of a finger ring, a type which was made from the 3rd - 5th centuries.

There was no evidence to suggest that the items were part of any rites (such as burial rites), however iron nails have been found to be used in this context.[1]

Ceramic building material

Teguale and Imbrices
An example of tegulae and imbrices - not those found on site.
Roman box flue tile
An example of a Roman box flue tile - not those found on site.

There were 32 fragments of ceramic building materials found in the excavation of the well, with a combined weight of 4253g and a "colour range between Weak Red (10R5/4) to Reddish Yellow (7.5YR/6/6)". There were two forms identified: "roof tile (tegulae and imbrices/ridge) and boxflue tile".

69% of the total fragments were tegulae, which were estimated to be eight individual tiles. Some of these fragments contained clues to the means of suspension; eight had flanges, two had nail/peg holes and three had cut-aways. Some of the tiles also had paw print impressions from a small dog, which is not unusual on ancient bricks and tiles.

19% of the total fragments were imbrices, which were estimated to be three individual tiles. There was uncertainty whether these were truly distinct from the tegulae.

6% of the fragments were box-flue tiles.

It is possible that the majority of the material was dumped in a single episode as most were found between 10-12m in the well. There are sparse fragments of the material at other levels, "suggests that dumping during the later phases was of a domestic nature". [1]

Stone roof tiles

There were nine fragments of Micaceous Sandstone roof tiles, one of which is complete and another of which is near complete. "Three different shapes of tile were provisionally identified: diamond, sub-rectangular and pentagonal, the latter examples displaying curved sides leading to a flat base."[1]

Querns and other stone artefacts

Upper part of quern stone
An example of the upper part of a quern stone - not those found on site.
Beehive quern
An example of a beehive quern - not those found on site.

A group of Late Iron Age and Romano-British querns were found mostly in the well and a large pit. Most of the querns are of the flat form and at least two are "probably millstones rather than hand querns". They are typical of those found from these eras in West Yorkshire.

There are two well made beehive querns (usually dated BC 200 - AD 200, but there are known to be later examples) made from Coal Measures sandstone.

"The flat querns are a mixture of local lithological types and Millstone Grits. Four of the six disc forms could well come from millstones rather than hand-turned querns, a high percentage for rural sites".

The most unusual quern found at the site was that of the disk rough-out, which would usually only be found at production sites. At the time of the archaeology report, there was only one rough-out found within 50km of Rothwell. Its presence hints at form of structured deposition, as rough-outs were used in the Iron Age for votive deposition.[1]

Structural stone work

Most of the stones found were unworked pieces, those some show evidence of heat-redding, while some may have been collected for their appearance. There was one stone with a clear structural use, another that was also worked, and a stone possibly modified.[1]

Wooden artefacts

All the surviving wooden artefacts are in the bottom waterlogged part of the well as they would not have survived in the non-waterlogged layers, even if they were present. All of the wood species identified were native.

A wooden bucket was found, but, due to it the specialist craft needed to produce it, it was likely made elsewhere. "This artefact and the iron-fitted spade, indicate links with other communities with access to specialist skills and equipment." It was unusual in that it was made from yew, of which, at the time of the report, only one Romano-British bucket fragment was made from yew.

Staves were found with nail holes that suggest they were once part of a structure or larger artefact. The offcuts and chippings found, which likely were produced in the breaking up of larger pieces of wood or timber structures, also support this idea. Wooden pegs, associated with framed wooden structures, were found.

A bracket was found, of which the function could not be determined, but which could have been used to secure timber or metal bars, or part of a drawbar mechanism for a large door or gate, or even a lifting mechanism to draw water from the well.

Three turned vessels, with simple but carefully finished decoration, were found, which were likely used as drinking vessels. They were likely broken before they were deposited in the well. It is unclear whether they were viewed as waste or "a token deliberately thrown into the well".

Other items found included a spade and a bucket handle.

The wooden artefacts found were somewhat different from those found at Dalton Parlours, which may indicate that the Rothwell well had "a different, perhaps less long-lived, working life to the well or that very different activities were taking place above ground".[1]

Leather and footwear

A number of leather artefacts were found in the waterlogged section of the well, up to 8.8m. Any leather higher than this would have perished due to the non-waterlogged conditions. The leather artefacts are mainly "footwear, with some off cuts, a strip with pricked decoration, and a curious oval object". The finds are similar to that found at Dalton Parlours.

A nailed bottom shoe is the best persevered piece of footwear. It is 21cm in length (a child size 13 or adult size 1). It lacks the upper part of the shoe, but the strips of goatskin used to reinforce the lasting margins are well preserved. There is evidence that the shoe was modified after it was made to alleviate pressure on the bottom edge of the foot. The leather shoes signs of wear from use.

Another shoe found seems to "have been specially made to cope with some sort of temporary affliction". These modifications are well know in post-medieval footwear but not in Roman footwear.

Some of the shoes had a distinct pattern, not previously seen elsewhere. Although they generally followed similar trends from artefacts found in Britain and the Continent.

The shoes found in Rothwell and Dalton Parlours are more decorative than similar pieces found elsewhere, "with cusping, openwork and surface impressions, Rothwell even more so than Dalton Parlours."

There are too few offcuts to suggest that there was a professional leatherworker on the site, however there was some leather working carried out there. The high quality tanned hides were likely to have been purchased elsewhere. Additionally, the "use of thin leather thong rather than twine for stitching is typical for the later Roman periods". The other shoes are likely that of an adult female, with some possibly having been for the same woman with an affliction or discomfort on "the lower heel edge of her left foot". The shoes were dated to the end of the 3rd century to the early 4th century.[1]

Cotton fabric

There was cotton textile in the well, although it was doubted by the expert who examined it that it was Roman. Cotton is very rare in the western Roman provinces. [1]

Human skull

A human skull (possibly from a decapitated person) was found in the well. It likely belonged to a male who was about 25 years old.[1]

Animal bones

A total of 4677 fragments of animal bone were found. Below shows a table of the analysed fragments, however due to poor sampling and sieving strategy it may not be a true representation.[1]

Species Total %
Sheep/Goat 489 27
Dog 450 25
Cattle 343 19
Pig 328 18
Cat 44 2
Chicken/Guinea 43 2
Equid 20 1
Other 71 6

The depths (mostly 9.6-10.5m) with the highest concentration of the fragments suggest that there may have been a period of intense dumping. There was evidence of butchery on the sheep/goats whereas, there were limited signs of butchery on the cattle. The sheep found were comparable in height to the smaller Roman sheep found at Dalton Parlours. Additionally, the "cattle are comparable in height to the larger specimens recovered from features dating to the late Romano-British period (AD 350-400) at Greyhound Yard, Dorchester". There was possible sign of tuberculosis on one of the cattle.

The dogs found were a smaller Roman breed, similar to those recovered from Tripontium. It was common in from 100-400AD for disused wells to be used for dog burials. At least three types of dog were present. The depositation skeletons may have had symbolic or ritual significance.

While most species sheep/goats, cattle and dogs had a range of ages, 70% of thee pig specimens had died within their first year. Less than 5% were older than 3.5 years. Only two fragments of teeth were found, one from a male and one from a female.

A majority of the cats were immature animals, however at least one animal was two years old or older. The immaturity of the cat bones found suggest that they were domesticated animals.

The equid bones are likely from Roman donkeys, rather than Romano-British horses, due to their size.

The majority of the bird bones were from chickens, although there were pheasant and guinea fowl bones which are rare in Romano-British sites. There were at minimum four individual chickens. It is likely that whole chickens were deposited in the well. There were other bird bones, including crow, rook, passerine and possibly buzzard.

There were a number of small mammals including mouse, rat, water vole and frog/toad. They likely fell into the well.

Plant and invertebrate assessment

A number of well preserved plant remains were found including: "some charred material from cereals (grain and chaff), heather and bracken (perhaps from litter, most likely from stable cleanings) and the merest traces of plants likely to represent domestic activities (a fragment of coriander seed in one sample)". Insects, mostly beetles, were found from the site.

The plant material was dominated by plants that either formed scrubland or developing woodland, which perhaps suggests there was clearance of the area. A single woodworm beetle was found, which is common in buildings and fences. One of the insects indicated that there were imported heath/moor resources, but there were no others found associated with this. Some of the beetles indicated that there were herbs in the pea family at the site, nettles, docks, plantain, crucifers and, unusually, violas. There was an indication of grassland, possibly grazing land, due to the dung beetles and chafers.

Compared with other sites, there were few insect species associated with rotting matter, yet three quarters of the insects suggested there was "very foul matter". There were was little evidence of synanthropic creatures "(those essentially dependent on humans), and notably no grain pests, which are present in most Roman intensive occupation deposits. This suggests that the fills of the well were not formed at a time when there were buildings, even stables, nearby."

"The rarity of ‘typical’, and lack of ‘strong’, synanthropes suggests strongly that by the time the deposits formed there were no occupied structures nearby. This might relate to a period of abandonment of the well with gradual infill, or to backfill by dumping"[1]

Puff ball

Bovista nigrescens - puff ball
An example of the species of puff ball found - not the one found on site.

A puff ball (Bovista nigrescens) was found on the site. In other excavations, puff balls have been found to be used for "stanching blood or for tinder". They typically occur from July to November so might give an indication of the time of year that the well was filled. While, the depth at which it was found on site was not recored, they have been know to survive depths of 7.9m, 8.4m and 9.6m. [1]

See Also

External Links


  1. Heritage Gateway also lists the grid reference SE3521029410, which is more exact than that given by Richardson.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 Richardson, J., 2011. Rothwell Haigh, Rothwell, Leeds, West Yorkshire - Excavation Report. [online] Wakefield: ASWYAS. Available at: https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-941-1/dissemination/pdf/archaeol11-92831_1.pdf [Accessed 17 July 2022].

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