A 'NEW' ALTAR FOUND AT WALL FORT
EXPERTS ASK WHY 18 WERE BURIED THERE
A ROMAN altar dating from the time of the Antonine Emperors in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD has been unearthed in pristine condition at the site of a Hadrian's Wall outpost — and incredibly, it is the 18th altar found here, adding to a mystery that has confounded experts for a century and a half.
The stone altar, dedicated to "Jupiter Optimus Maximus" was discovered at the Maryport, Cumbria, archaeological dig — where 17 other stone altars were discovered 142 years ago.
The altar will join 17 others unearthed by landowner Humphrey Senhouse in 1870 which are in the town's Roman museum. The altars were all buried in gigantic pits at regular intervals, to the mystification of experts
The manager of the Senhouse Roman Museum described the altar as "rare and special".
The inscription on the latest altar is in mint condition because the altar was buried face-down. It is a dedication to Jupiter on behalf of Titus Attius Tutor, commander of the First Cohort of Baetasian, which came to Maryport from what is now the Netherlands.
Most likely, there were even more altars at the site because a fragment of an altar was found by a volunteer on the first day of the excavations at Maryport began in June 2011. This new, 18th, altar was also found by a volunteer.
The 28-strong team of volunteers is working to unravel the mystery surrounding the unique cache of 17 altars discovered at Maryport in 1870 — now 18 and growing. They had been buried in a series of pits to the north and east of the fort. The site had remained untouched since 1870 until this new dig began a year ago.
Previously, it was thought that the altars were ritually buried.
But Professor Ian Haynes, from Newcastle University, told the BBC that the latest find indicates that at some point the altars lost their significance and were used by the Romans in building work.
Experts hope that revisiting the area will help them to construct a more complete picture of this internationally important site. Watch this blog for updates on this major dig.