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Roman remains discovered in Exeter city centre

Pottery and floor tiles found in the excavation. Photo: Exeter City Council

Archaeologists have unearthed Roman remains in exeter's city centre in one of the largest archaeological excavations in recent years.

It is currently being done in Mary Arches Street, ahead of the building of a new student development.

Evidence of ramparts surrounding a Roman fortress. Credit: Exeter City Council

AC Archaeology, who are carrying out the work, are required to record the remains and finds before the area is destruction for the development.

An intact Roman road. Credit: Exeter City Council

The site is described as being just inside the walled Roman and medieval city, behind the city wall, which runs the other side of Bartholomew Street, and is within the corner of the earlier Roman legionary fortress.

Experts say that as one of four to five major fortresses in the country in the decades after the Roman invasion, it would have housed the 2nd Augusta legion.

Around a total of 6000 men would have stayed there for about 20 years from about AD 55 to 75.

A roman coin. Credit: Exeter City Council

The bathhouse under the green in front of the Cathedral is also thought to be the most well-known part of it.

The excavations have also uncovered remains of the 17th – 19th century houses and buildings that stood on the site until the 1940s blitz and post war redevelopment, including walls, wells and garderobes (toilets).

Intricate pottery fragments. Credit: Exeter City Council

Finds from the site have included Roman coins, including one of the Emperor Nero, who was the emperor while the legion was present and is famous of course for fiddling while Rome burned.

The walls have mostly been removed, to reveal remains of a large Roman town house underneath, dating back to the 2nd to 4th centuries. Although chopped up by the concrete foundations of the former Quintana Gate buildings, its outline can still be seen, including remains of a hypocaust (underfloor heating system) where it has slumped into an earlier pit or well underneath. This town house is currently being excavated.

A child's bracelet. Credit: Exeter City Council

There is also a coin of the later Emperor Constantine, who founded the modern Istanbul, as well as personal items, and fine pottery imported from Europe at the time, and later on in the 17th to 18th century.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum are set to decide which of these finds it will take, with the agreement of the developer as the current owner.