Roman cosmetic palette discovered during Swaledale dig

Opening up the excavation site.

An appeal for help to explore a Romano-British site in Swaledale was met with such support that over 25 diggers a day turned up to lend a hand.

They were able to excavate a 400 metre square section of the site near Fremington during a successful 17-day project in July.

Philip Bastow from the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group (SWAAG) said that public support for the dig has been overwhelming.

He added: “This is the largest project that we have undertaken and we simply could not have opened up such a large site, and discovered so much that is new about Swaledale’s past, without their enthusiasm and support.

“So, a big thank you to them all, and of course to the National Park’s Sustainable Development Fund. It was their grant that helped us to get this year’s project off the ground.

“Day seven of the dig confirmed to us that the site was regionally important when a beautiful piece of worked stone was found.

“We believe it to be a Roman cosmetic palette; a lady or her maid would have used this to mix and apply facial cosmetics. The edge of the piece was chamfered around the edge, perfectly smooth on one side and small enough to sit comfortably in the hand.

“The palette is only one of several high-status items we found. They are all being professionally examined before we can say anything further.”

The cosmetic palette.

Philip described the site, saying that there was a roundhouse that faced east, with its back to the prevailing winds and weather.

The door entrance has a stone sill that has been skilfully chiselled to form a rebate and drip groove, and to-date
is without parallel in the country.

A large area of flagged yard, laid upon older cobbling, has been uncovered to the south of the roundhouse.

He said: “The quality of the civil engineering on such a rural site is extraordinary, it shows that the site was progressively improved and developed during its occupation. I am sure that it has more secrets to show us.”

SWAAG worked with two local schools on this year’s dig: Arkengarthdale Primary School and Reeth and Gunnerside Federation of Primary Schools.

They provided workshops for both schools on Finds, Flints, and Fossils.

On day eight Arkengarthdale Primary School visited and enthusiastically explored the site and carefully handled some of the finds.

Philip said: “We were delighted to share the site with the children and show them how much history is on their doorstep. We were also delighted to receive their many letters of thanks after the visit.”

One pupil said: “I was fascinated looking at the roundhouse and drawing a picture of it.”

Another added: “I really enjoyed looking at the door sill. It’s really weird, Roman doors are really wide. I didn’t think they were that clever and could make drains then.”

SWAAG are now assessing what their finds tell us about the Romano-British presence in Swaledale.

Their findings will be presented publicly later this year, in preparation for further exploration next year.