Dig gets under way to find out more about Ilkley's Roman past

Ilkley Gazette: Caroline Emery holding a piece of what could be Roman storage jar Caroline Emery holding a piece of what could be Roman storage jar

An archaeological dig aims to uncover new information about Ilkley’s ancient Roman fort and the lives of the soldiers who once lived there.

Archaeologists are digging trial trenches on Castle Hill – close to the Manor House Museum and All Saints Parish Church.

The site was opened up for members of the public to visit yesterday, Wednesday, and find out more about the explorations underway.

The investigation has been instructed by property developer, Burley Developments, in consultation with English Heritage and West Yorkshire Archaeological Advisory Service.

Burley Developments is hoping to develop the plot, which is on the site of former Glovers Garage land, for housing, but first needs to find out if Roman remains lie beneath.

On-Site Archaeology Ltd of York is undertaking trial trenching on Castle Hill just outside the west gate of the fort.

The history of the Roman fort at Ilkley – said by some to be named Olicana – is based largely on early 20th Century excavations in the north-western quadrant and a single trench through the defences excavated in 1962.

The fort is thought to have been established in the late first century AD, on a knoll overlooking the River Wharfe, as part of the Governor Agricola’s campaigns of conquest in the Pennine region.

The fort lay at the junction of two important Roman roads, one running east – west from York to Ribchester in Lancashire and the other approaching, via a crossing of the Wharfe, from Aldborough to the north-east.

The new dig is located in an area close to a Roman road leading up to the fort gate and probably lies above the defensive ditches which ran around the fort or an area where there were buildings, such as temples and shrines, where the soldiers worshipped their gods.

The great stone altar to the goddess Verbeia, spirit of the River Wharfe, now in the Manor House Museum, came from just outside the fort.

The first fort at Ilkley was said to be founded by Gallo-Roman general Agricola in about 80 AD, and was largely constructed of wood. A second fort was built in around 161 AD which survived for 30 years, before being burnt down.

A stone fort was then built in its place, and this survived until the end of the Roman period in the late 4th or early 5th Century.

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