Case Study: Kintore Roman Camp

A composite image showing the location of a site in the north east of Scotland and an extract of a modern street map showing 5 excavated areas and the line of a Roman ditch

Plan of archaeological work undertaken at Kintore, Copyright AOC Archaeology

The Roman temporary camp at Kintore is a successful example of how the large-scale excavation of a site, managed through the planning process, has revolutionised understanding of this type of monument. Previously, camps had been assumed to have little in their interiors, but this was partly because only limited small-scale excavation had taken place there, having primarily focused on ditch sections. A PhD thesis by Alan Leslie (1995) highlighted the potential of terrestrial fieldwork, and his arguments have been borne out by the large-scale excavations at Kintore.

Earlier excavations identified some internal features (Shepherd 1987; Alexander 2000) but it was not until extensive excavations in the interior, undertaken between 2000-2006, that the potential of camps to yield significant information has been realised (Cook and Dunbar 2008; Cook et al. forthcoming).

Some 180 bipartite features, interpreted as Roman field ovens, are now known from Kintore, along with at least 60 rubbish pits and a plethora of non-Roman features. The ovens demonstrated considerable variability in style, orientation, fuel use and size, partly reflecting their location and survival patterns, but also possibly indicating different units and the different backgrounds of serving soldiers. They also produced evidence for multiple firings, demonstrating that the camp was occupied for more than one night (a previous misconception relating to these camps). Artefacts and environmental evidence recovered have provided valuable insights into the army on campaign.

The excavations at Kintore have provided a wealth of information and finds, illustrating how much there is still to find out about these structures. They whet the appetite for large-scale excavation and large-scale geophysical survey on other structures, which could demonstrate that Kintore is not an anomaly, merely the camp that, so far, has received the largest scale of open-area excavations anywhere in the Roman Empire.

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