Roman marching camp found at Ayr

Excavation of one of the Roman ovens at the site of the new Ayr Academy.
Excavation of one of the Roman ovens at the site of the new Ayr Academy.

New evidence for the Roman conquest of Scotland has been found at Ayr and was presented at a major archaeological conference at the weekend.

The discovery was made during archaeological excavations by GUARD Archaeology on the site of the new Ayr Academy in 2015. Archaeologists found a hitherto unknown Roman marching camp constructed during the Roman conquest of Scotland.

No Roman artefacts were present and it was not obvious at first that the site had been a Roman marching camp. However, during the subsequent post-excavation analyses, radiocarbon dates revealed a regular pattern of features that date to the Roman conquest of Scotland in the latter part of the first century AD.

“The Roman features comprised 26 large, often double, fire-pits that were distributed evenly in two parallel rows 30m apart,” said Iraia Arabaolaza, who directed the excavation and presented the findings at the Archaeological Research in Progress 2019 Conference at the weekend.

“The arrangement and uniformity of these features implies an organised layout and the evidence suggests that they were all used for baking bread. The location of the oven was recognised by the scorching of the subsoil base, stone slabs and burnt clay fragments, some with wood imprints and with dome moulding.

“Ash pits were identified at the opposite end to the ovens within these figure-of-eight features, filled with burnt and charcoal-rich soil comprising the raked-out material from the clay-domed ovens.”

The radiocarbon dates from these fire-pits overlapped between the years AD 77-86 and AD 90, which accords with the conquest of Scotland by the Roman general Agricola from AD 79 until AD 88.

Until now, the only two known routes for the Roman invasion of southern Scotland were further to the east; the present-day M74 and A68 roads follow these same courses. Now the new marching camp at Ayr reveals another route down the west coast towards the south-west tip of Scotland.

“There was a ford across the river Ayr just below the Roman marching camp while ships may have been beached on the nearby shoreline,” said Iraia Arabaolaza.

“The Ayr marching camp is 20 miles from the nearest Roman camp to the south at Girvan, which corresponds to a day’s march for a Roman soldier. Altogether this suggests that this site was chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire.”

A Roman Marching Camp in Ayr by Iraia Arabaolaza has just been published in the Britannia Journal, while ARO33: Beside the River Ayr in prehistoric times: excavations at Ayr Academy by Iraia Arabaolaza is freely available to download from Archaeology Reports Online.