THE history-digging moles of Epiacum have done it again, turning up a piece of Roman history.
A near-intact inch-wide Samian ware pottery artefact found on top of a molehill at Whitley Castle Roman fort on the Northumberland-Cumbria border is now in the hands of expert analysts.
The piece is thought to be either a stand for a bowl, a Roman vase or goblet – or even an egg-cup.
It was discovered by a member of a team led by TV Time Team personality Stewart Ainsworth on a walk across the site at Slaggyford, near Alston.
Last year, The Journal revealed that burrowing moles at Epiacum were digging up rare pieces of Roman history while humans are barred by law from excavating the 2,000-year-old site, which is a protected Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Another two-day molehill survey begins today, with a team of 50 volunteers combing the 1,000-acre Castle Nook site owned by farmer John Edgar and his wife Elaine. Mrs Edgar, a former teacher who is now developing the land as a cultural heritage attraction, said: “It is the most intact find we have had and has overtaken what we previously thought was our best one.
“We don’t know yet what it was used for, but we have experts examining it now.”
Paul Frodsham, historic environment officer for the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said yesterday: “This is either a vase, a stand for a bowl of some kind, a goblet or possibly even a Roman egg-cup. It has a splayed foot and is most likely some kind of vase, but it is a very interesting piece and we will be getting the Roman experts in to take a look at it.
“This is just one of hundreds of finds that we will be looking at over the course of this summer – we will be bringing together the finds of two or three years.”
Samian ware is considered to be the Romans’ most exclusive ceramic product, and previous examples have been found at Epiacum.
A £49,200 heritage lottery grant last year gave specially-formed Epiacum Heritage Ltd, with four directors, the foundation to go ahead with major plans.
Whitley Castle, 12 miles south of the Roman Wall, is thought to have been an isolated Roman settlement set up near the ancient silver and lead mines of the time.
The eight-acre hill fort – at 320m (1,050ft) one of the highest forts in the country – is at the heart of an 18-month development project running to January 2014.
Stewart Ainsworth has described it as “a gem, far better than anything on the Wall”. The Epiacum moles have previously dug up a rare jet bead from a Roman bracelet or necklace, as well as other examples of Samian pottery. Coins, leather shoes, a wooden comb, inscribed stones and altars have also been discovered at the site.