The handle of a Roman helmet found in Priors Hall Park could indicate extensive military presence

A bronze artifact found near a recently discovered Roman road suggests that soldiers remained in the area after they built it.

The depiction of two dolphins found in excavations at Priors Hall Park, Corby in Northamptonshire was originally thought to be a Roman buckle.

But specialists recently revealed that it is the handle of a 2nd century helmet.

Archaeologist Nick Gilmour said it could indicate a “connection to the military continued” after the road was built.

Archaeologists have been working on the site for some 12 years – earmarked for more than 5,000 homes.

Drone photo of excavation at Priors Hall Park in Corby

Items found during excavations provide insight into the lives of Roman workers, archaeologists said

They first discovered a temple/mausoleum turned into a production center for pottery, bricks and tiles, but during a second phase of work in 2021, they found an intact Roman road connecting Corby to surrounding settlements.

Mr Gilmour said the bronze artifact, about 5 cm (2 in) long and showing “two dolphins facing each other as if they had leapt out of the water”, was the kind of thing often found on Roman buckles, so when they found it at the site, that’s what it thought to be.

But after further investigation, a professor of Roman military equipment said that it was 95% certain that it was the handle of a helmet from the 2nd century.

“The shape looks like a buckle but you can see it hasn’t broken off and you can see where the rivets went through,” said Mr Gilmour.

“We had found this road that was built in the 1st century and roads were built by the military, so we know they were in the area then.

“[The find] might suggest that a link to the military at the site persisted after the construction of the road.”

The archaeologist added that it was possible to date the find to the 2nd or early 3rd century because the Roman army stopped using them after that.

“The purpose of a helmet is to keep things off you, but if you put a handle on it, it catches things and flutters up and down,” he said.

“It makes it easier to wear, but stops the helmet’s function, so they stopped using it.”

Mr Gilmour said the question that remained was whether a single piece of evidence was enough to show that the military was still present at the site in the 2nd century.

“The answer is ‘probably’ why else would there be part of a helmet,” he said, “but it’s just one fragment.

“It is also possible that it was a piece of bronze that was brought to the site to be recycled and reused.

“That’s the more mundane explanation, but we’d like to think the military would have kept a presence there.”

By the middle of the 1st century, the people living in the area focused on iron production and in 2006 an ironworks was found 1 km (0.6 mi) away.

Mr Gilmour said the Romans were also in the area because of the ironworks, as it was a metal they needed for weapons.

He said it would have been “wise” for them to keep a “smaller outlying garrison” there to “keep control of the iron”.

“A military presence doesn’t mean they were there to fight the locals, but they would do administration, taxes and road repairs etc, so it would make sense to have them there to supervise,” he said.

“We would like to [this to be the case] but it’s hard to prove.”

He said any metal found at the site was being preserved and cleaned up and would be reanalyzed for other evidence as smaller details not previously seen could become visible.

Priors Hall Park, Corby.

Priors Hall Park is a development of over 5,000 new homes in Corby

For example, a few coins need to be cleaned to see which emperor is on them.

“Some coins are associated with the military,” he said.

“For example, an emperor may commission a commemorative coin to thank soldiers for their service, but they usually aren’t issued, so if you find one, you’ve actually found a soldier.”

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