A major new excavation in Maryport, England has provided a window into the religious landscape of an area once occupied by the Roman Empire. Archaeologists and volunteers say they’ve uncovered what they believe is an early Christian church.
“If it is, it is a very early church indeed, built in the frontier zone at a time of major social and cultural change,” the project's director, Professor Ian Haynes of Newcastle University, told The Huffington Post in an email. “So we have a site with very important evidence for Jupiter worship, where subsequently we have evidence for an early Christian community.”
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Farmers employed by landowner Humphrey Senhouse stumbled upon the first Roman military altars at Maryport in 1870, Haynes said -- the largest number of Roman altar stones ever found in Britain. The altars belonged to a civilian settlement situated near the important Maryport Roman fort along Hadrian’s wall.
The fort secured the Cumbrian coast from northern raiders and served as a supply depot, according to the Senhouse Roman Museum, which displays artifacts found on the Maryport sites. In fact, the fort and settlement were likely established in the second century and endured into the fourth century, Haynes said.
Then 10 years later, local bank manager and amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson found more altars 100 meters away, in addition to the possible early Christian church rediscovered and identified this year.
"The excavations have yielded some remarkable and surprising results over the last two years, and it’s exciting to be back this season," Haynes said in a written statement.
Haynes, site director Tony Wilmott and their team started digging at the site in 2011 and 2012, re-examining the altar stones and discovering a late Roman/early medieval cemetery.
The Maryport project is set to continue with more excavations in the next two years.