Top 10 Things to Find on a Roman Dig

Roman Southwell top 10

Matt Beresford is the brains and (some) of the braun behind #ResearchingRomanSouthwell – a super exciting crowdfunded community archaeology project that’s open to everyone to get involved in, online or in the trenches. We spoke to him about the things you’re most likely to find when digging Roman Britain…

Ok, ok, if I had to boil it down to the one single thing you’re most likely to find on a Roman dig, I’d have to say… CBM (ceramic building material). From roof tiles to bricks, bits of Roman buildings get everywhere. But, over at #ResearchingRomanSouthwell, we’d say you’d be having a pretty rubbish day if that’s the only thing you found, so let’s leave the rubble behind and check out what else you might expect to find on Roman dig:

1. Coins


An archaeologist’s dream, Roman coins are really useful as they can help date a site! Coins (especially gold and silver ones) are the bits of bling that everyone likes to discover on site.

2. Pottery

2 Roman pottery

Pottery sherds are one of the most frequent finds on an archaeology site. What may look like a boring old bit of pot can actually tell us quite a bit – where it was made, what it was used for, and sometimes even the person who made it.

3. Glass

3 roman glass

Roman glass is not found that often, but when it is, it’s pretty amazing to think the Romans were using glass just like us almost 2,000 years ago.

4. Weapons

4 roman swords

We all love Gladiator, right?! Well who wouldn’t get excited about finding Russell Crowe’s sword! All together now – ‘I’M Spartacus!’

5. Skeletons

5 roman skelly

Finding a skelly on any site is pretty amazing, but not without its difficulties. Although they can tell us loads about the distant past, human remains require a special licence before they can be dug up, and the research into them can prove rather costly! Still, finding one is pretty cool…

6. Shoes

6 roman shoe

Hard to believe that it is possible to discover a Roman shoe, but that’s just what happened at Vindolanda, the Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall. Socks and sandals though?? Oh dear!

7. Brooches

7 roman brooch

Another common find on Roman sites, brooches are often found in the construction make-up of roads. Either the Roman road builders were very careless, or they purposefully inserted them into the surface, most probably as an offering to their Gods.

8. Gladiator bowl

8 gladiator bowl

Despite fitting neatly together, these two pieces of painted Roman glass were actually found many metres apart! An exceptional find, they show two gladiators in combat, complete with streaks of blood!

9. Mosaics

9 southwell mosaic

Mosaics are made up of hundreds of tiny pieces of cube shaped stone or clay (called tesserae), and can range from quite plain to wonderfully elaborate – the carpets of the Roman period! This image shows the mosaic floor from the villa at Southwell, directly adjacent to our own site.

10. Chariot burials

10 chariot

The one Roman find we would all love to discover! Chariots are one of the most common associations we have with the Romans, but finding one is pretty rare. Still, one day…

 Always wanted to try archaeology? Now’s your chance!
#ResearchingRomanSouthwell is a community archaeology project YOU can get involved in, online or in the field!
Support the project to find out what happened!

Matt is an archaeologist & educator based in Nottinghamshire who specialises in Community Archaeology. He loves meeting and working with people and helping them get involved in their local heritage. He is also an avid Newcastle United fan, gym goer and lego builder, who definitely buys too many books! You can find him on Twitter as @MBArchaeology.


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