archaeological dig could reveal how the Romans used north Devon
iron to maintain their world-wide empire 2,000 years ago.
have uncovered a massive iron site near Brayford on the southern
edge of Exmoor.
Thousands of tons of metal was smelted at the site - far more than
would have been needed locally.
The team is also excavating at the iron mining trench or openwork
known as "Roman Lode," at Burcombe near Simonsbath.
sample of the metal found
the archaeologists do not necessarily believe that the name "Roman
Lode" can be taken as evidence for Roman mining, the fact that
the nearby smelting sites would have required a constant supply
of good quality ore suggests that Roman Lode would have been a convenient
from Exeter University are trying to work out if the Roman army
ran the operation. Another
possibility is that it was traded with a local supplier.
A 20-strong team of archaeologists from the university has been
working with local volunteers to excavate the site at Sherracombe
Ford, between Simonsbath and South Molton.
blocks of slag weighing up to 20 kilos have been found, along with
pottery fragments, which show much of the iron production took place
between the second and third centuries AD. A number of furnaces
have also been found.
thought this was the site of the ironworks near Brayford
dig is part of a four-year excavation at the site, which is thought
to date back to the late Iron Age. The team has dug a trench which
is over 30 metres long and up to three metres deep.
The trench has revealed the enormous scale of iron production -
and it seems the processes used were technologically well advanced.
director Dr Gill Juleff said the amount of metal produced was far
greater than would have been needed locally. It could have supplied
markets throughout the Roman Empire.
She said: "One of the questions the team
will be addressing is, if the Roman army were overseeing and directing
iron production. Or was it being operated by the Roman imperial
army, or being run by a local entrepeneur, supplying iron to markrets
throughout the Roman Empire.
"Certainly, the amount of metal produced here was far greater
than would have been needed locally."
added: "What we are seeing so far suggests that the iron production
from Exmoor's ores was at its greatest during the Roman period.
"What we thought would be a straightforward site is turning
out to be a very complex industrial operation."
Exmoor National Park Authority says the findings are exciting. The
park's archaeologist, Rob Wilson-North said: "Archaeology on
Exmoor is entering a new phase.
"This is an excavation that we have been wanting to carry out
for some years. It is transforming how we see Roman Exmoor."
The dig is being run by the park authority, the University of Exeter,
and the National Trust, following a grant from English Heritage.