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article imageStrange 'winged' structure from Roman era discovered in England

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jan 24, 2012 in World
Archaeologists have discovered a "winged" structure dating back to the Roman period in England. Experts say the building has no parallels in the Roman Empire and it is uncertain what it was used for, but they speculate it might have been a temple.
According to Archeological News, the structure built 1800 years ago, was discovered in Norfolk, eastern England, to the south of an ancient town called Venta Icenorum. The building has two winged structures radiating out from a rectangular room that leads into another identified as the central room.
William Bowden, professor at the University of Nottingham, who reported the discovery in the latest edition of the Journal of Roman Archaeology, said the puzzle over the building arises mostly from the fact that its structure is unusual. Bowden explained: "Generally speaking, [during] the Roman Empire people built within a fixed repertoire of architectural forms."
Archaeologists have no examples of such building in the region or in the Roman Empire to help throw light on why the structure was built or what the building was used for. Bowden, told LiveScience: "It's very unusual to find a building like this where you have no known parallels for it. What they were trying to achieve by using this design is really very difficult to say."
LiveScience reports that the building appears to be part of a complex that includes a villa to the north and at least two other structures lying northeast and northwest. Archaeologists, after a study of aerial photographs, believe there was also an oval or polygonal building with an apse located to the east of the complex.
The foundation of the two wings and rectangular room was made of a thin layer of "rammed clay and chalk." According to Bowden, this is evidence that the structure was not designed to be used for a long time. He said that the evidence from the foundation is that, "the superstructure of much of the building was quite light, probably timber and clay-lump walls with a thatched roof."
The room identified as central to the complex, however, seemed to have been more sturdily constructed, with foundations of lime mortar mixed with clay and small pieces of flint and brick. This section archaeologists think may have had a tiled roof. Bowden said: "Roman tiles are very large things, they’re very heavy."
Another building was erected on the site after the wing-shaped structure was brought down. Bowden said that the few artifacts found at the site could not be linked with certainty to the winged structure, and there is evidence that the land had been ploughed some time in the past. The dearth of artifacts on the site suggests to archaeologists that the building was used only for a short time.
Wing-shaped structure might have been a temple
Wing-shaped structure might have been a temple
William Bowden
Was the complex a temple?
Archaeologists are stumped by this question. Its location is elevated, thus the building was seen from the nearby town of Venta Icenorum. Bowden wrote: "It's possible that this was a temporary building constructed for a single event or ceremony, which might account for its insubstantial construction. Alternatively the building may represent a shrine or temple on a hilltop close to a Roman road, visible from the road as well as from the town."
The story of Queen Boudicca
The story of the conflict between native Britons who lived in the area of Norfolk and the conquering Roman army is well known. The people are known as the Iceni. Their known architecture is simple and their religion nature oriented. According to Bowden: "Iceni gods...tend to be associated with the natural sites: the springs, trees, sacred groves, this kind of thing."
The military career of Boudicca, wife of Prasutagus chief of the Iceni, began after her husband died in A.D. 60. The Romans, under Emperor Claudius in A.D. 43, had invaded Britain and partially subjugated the Icenis. According to the Roman writer Tacitus, telling the story of the brutal suppression of the Iceni by the Romans in his The Annals, "First, his [Prasutagus'] wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stripped of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves."
Boudicca by Thomas Thornycroft  near Westminster Pier  London
Boudicca by Thomas Thornycroft, near Westminster Pier, London
A. Brady
Boudicca later led an Iceni revolt that started off successfully with the sacking of Londinium (London). But Roman troops defeated Boudicca at the Battle of Watling Street.
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