An interesting statistic is that 24% of Roman material recorded for Wiltshire on the Portable Antiquities Scheme is in a relatively small area west of Salisbury. These are finds mostly made by metal detectorists and so deciding that 24% of all Wiltshire Roman archaeology is in that area would not be correct, because some areas would be more intensely detected than others, but it points to something.
There are also a number of known Roman shrines or temples and there have been some coin hoards in the same area, but only a few known villas and no known towns or forts.
Three years ago Salisbury Museum PAS Volunteers were involved in an excavation in this area and some of those attended a recent lecture by Dr David Roberts (Historic England) who co-directed the excavation. Much post-excavation work has now been done and interpretations are possible. He told us this particular site turned out to be yet another temple, complete with hundreds of miniature metal tools, coins and, in one case, a spear head wrapped around a coin, apparently all votive offerings. There were even nine curse tablets!* They were addressed to a previously unknown god from that period, called Bregneus. The present assumption, in view of the majority of the finds, is that he was something to do with smithing. Indeed, there was an iron furnace nearby and much metal working waste in the area.
One of the most interesting aspects was the way in which Dr Roberts has been able to interpret how the temple building was used. The fact that some of the stone floor was worn, and some of it not, allows the archaeologist to see where the worshippers and/or priest walked, processed or perhaps approached an altar of some kind. There appears to have been a very narrow, restricting entrance, and, interestingly, the presence of burnt mustard seed suggests something more…Mustard seed gives off a strong, acrid smell when burned. It suggests a ritual or creation of a magical atmosphere.
There is obviously more to do in this area. More to find!
*Curse tablets were usually made of thin sheets of lead onto which words were scratched (in this case, fluent early cursive script). They usually invoked the god’s help in dealing with enemies. In the case of hundreds found around the Roman baths in Bath, they are mainly from frustrated people whose clothes had been stolen while they bathed!
A curse tablet from London showing holes which probably indicate that it was nailed to the wall of a temple. It wishes a certain Tretia Maria all sorts of nasty things if she fails to keep a secret!