Archaeological research takes time, especially the post-excavation process. Thus, for this final instalment in my survey of Salford’s early past I’m returning to one of the two Roman rural settlements known from within the city: Barton. For there is now fresh evidence which throws a light on life and death in Roman Salford.
A cold, snowy, January in 2013 saw the archaeology team from Salford University excavating a small sandy promontory above the Manchester Ship Canal at Barton, south of the aerodrome. This ridge was defined by an ancient stream to the north and an old palaeo-channel of the River Irwell to the south. Here a network of gullies and ditches formed a series of small rectangular enclosures, each roughly 20m by 45m, with a trackway at the western end of the site giving access to what were ditched field boundaries. All of these features were damaged by later ploughing activity, leaving very little trace of original floor levels and ground surfaces.
Even so, south-east of the trackway lay a shallow gully, representing the remains of a roundhouse, c. 9m in diameter. North-west of the trackway were two curving gullies, encompassing an area c. 6.5m across, which formed the foundations of a second roundhouse. A third round house, with a southern porch, lay on the eastern side of the site. These latter two buildings appear to be pre-Roman, possible Iron Age. However, the foundations of the hut south-east of the trackway produced locally-made Roman pottery. This hut was flanked to the south-west and north-east by two ditched rectangular enclosures, whilst to the south-east of the hut was an area of intersecting ditches, perhaps indicating the location of another trackway on the escarpment edge. These features were associated with Romano-British courseware pottery: fragments of Cheshire planes’ ware bowls, a mortarium and a black-burnished ware pot.
Close to the southern edge of the small western ditched enclosures lay a pit containing a cremation burial. This pit was orientated east-west and measured 2.0m in length, 1.0m in width, and was 0.40m deep. The primary fill at the bottom of the pit contained a few burnt stones, charcoal and an area of burnt bone fragments. Above this was a secondary fill layer dominated by charcoal, fire-cracked stone, and further cremated bone. This layer also contained a stone mould and a quern stone fragment. The top-most fill of the pit contained frequent fire-cracked stones and charcoal inclusions as well as Roman coarseware pottery and another fragment of quern stone.
Radio-carbon dating of the cremated bone has produced a date from the early third century AD. Analysis of the cremated bones suggested that they were the remains of an adult whose diet was not marine (coastal). This date is supported by the age of some of the grave goods with the burial; namely the sherds of Roman coarseware pottery. It also means that the sandstone mould from the pit and the fragments of quern stone are also Roman (unless they were redeposited, which seems highly unlikely).
The location of the burial, on the edge of the settlement activity, is a common position for Romano-British farmsteads. It is not, however, the first Roman burial known from Salford, for in 1958, a few kilometres to the north, the head of Worsley Man was discovered on the edge of Chat Moss. The Barton cremation is, though, the first such discovery of a Roman rural burial within in Greater Manchester. The find demonstrates not only how the Roman rural evidence from the region fits the national pattern but also shows the continuing potential of our local rural landscape to produce further evidence for the Roman occupation. This potential is about to be tested again with the redevelopment of a site immediately east of the Barton settlement.