A ‘winged’ structure has been discovered in Norfolk, Eastern England, dating back to the Early Roman period (around 211 A.D.). Its mysterious shape has bewildered archaeologists, as this particular construction has no parallels.
Professor William Bowden from the University of Nottingham said, ‘Generally speaking, [during] the Roman Empire people built within a fixed repertoire of architectural forms’ (see the latest edition of the Journal of Roman Archaeology).
The curious find was created approximately 1,800 years ago and consists of two wings radiating from a ‘rectangular room’ a central room. Aerial photographs clearly show an oval/polygonal building erected.
The ‘winged’ form is quite unique within the Roman Empire, as no other buildings exist that replicate its distinctive architecture. Bowden explains to LiveScience, ‘What they were trying to achieve by using this design is really very difficult to say’. The construction has been identified as part of a facility which was believed to consist of two additional constructions – one northwest and one northeast – as well as an ancient villa due north.
Both the rectangular rooms and the two ‘wings’ appear to be made from chalk and rammed clay. Bowden continues, ‘the superstructure of much of the building was quite light, probably timber and clay-lump walls with a thatched roof’. This provides evidence for the theory that its assembly was for short-term use only.
The central room includes some hardier surfaces, with a mixture of clay, lime mortar, flint and brick. It was more than likely that this section was installed with large Roman tiles on the ceiling, as Bowden states.
During the excavation the team found ‘undisturbed layers’ but few artefacts. Bowden says, ‘This could suggest that it [the winged building] wasn’t used for a very particularly long time.’
According to Bowden, the scarce number of artefacts recovered is also probably due to a plough having previously ripping through the site, scattering debris. Another issue is the use of metal detectors throughout the Norfolk area by local ‘treasure hunters’, which may have impacted on the small return.
Sometime after the expiration of the ‘winged’ structure, another building was also built on top of it. Post holes containing painted wall plaster were discovered by archaeologists at the site.
Bowden states, ‘It’s possible that this was a temporary building constructed for a single event or ceremony, which might account for its insubstantial construction … Alternatively the building may represent a shrine or temple on a hilltop close to a Roman road, visible from the road as well as from the town’.
Archaeologists believe that descendants of the Iceni, the local population existing before the Roman conquest (between 200 – 50 BC), may have been the ones who initially built the ‘winged’ structure.
At the town of Venta Icenorum, its mysterious shape can be still seen from a distance, though the ‘wing’ details are weak.
The discovery and investigation of the ‘winged’ structure has been overseen by the Norfolk Archaeological and Historical Research Group.