Priory Field: excavating a legionary store building

The geophysical surveys conducted in 2006 and 2007 revealed a number of buildings in Priory Field, including one side of a large building in the north-eastern corner of the field which extended into the car park of the Priory Hotel (see Mapping Isca). This particular building is square in plan, measuring about 55m by 55m, and consists of a central courtyard with ranges of rooms around all four sides. The main entrance appears to be in the centre of the south-western range in Priory Field, giving access into the building from the open yard between it and the three granaries towards the Porta Principalis Dextra. An evaluation trench excavated in 2007 demonstrated that the remains of this building are remarkably well preserved abd only some 30cm below the modern ground surface.

A large trench was opened over the southern part of the ‘front’ wing of this building in order to examine its function and chronology during the Roman period and to investigate the post-Roman history of this part of Caerleon. The excavations were directed by Andrew Gardner and Peter Guest and involved students from Cardiff University, UCL and other UK universities, as well as many local volunteers. It seems likely that the large courtyard building in Priory Field was a horreum (warehouse or store building), which would make sense if this part of the fortress, closest to the quays on the River Usk, was intended for the storage of foodstuffs and other materials required by the legion. Later masonry buildings (possibly two or more) that overlay the demolished remains of the original military warehouse could date to the later Roman period, though the poor build quality of these structures suggests they belong to a non-military phase of activity within the walls of Isca.

The excavations produced large quantities of finds, including pottery, brick and tile, animal bone, and personal artefacts. A building inscription recording the work of men under the command of primus pilus (first ‘file’ or ‘rank’ centurion) Flavius Rufus was one of the most unusual finds discovered during the excavation (currently on display in the National Roman Legion Museum).The team intend to return to Priory Field for a second season of excavation in 2010.

The interim report of the 2008 Priory Field excavation is available in the downloads section

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Excavation trench in Priory Field 2008 (© Cardiff University / UCL)

Flavius Rufus centurial stone from Priory Field (© NMW)