Staff from the Wessex Archaeology Sheffield office have been monitoring a development in central York for much of 2017 and were not expecting this from a service trench through a 19th century cellar.

The site lies within the medieval walled city, and due to the archaeological sensitivity of the area, the retirement home proposed for the site is being built on foundation piles, with less impact on lower levels. An archaeological watching brief was required for any ground disturbing works, and this passed off with little incident, until the last day when a Roman altar was found!

The artefact was spotted amidst the upcast generated when a service trench was excavated through a backfilled Victorian cellar.

The workmanship of the artefact appears rather crude, and the sculptor was probably as native as the millstone grit from which it is carved. Although the altar lacks an inscription on its front, a design can be seen on one side (height of altar approximately 40 cm). RTI recording of the artefact (lower image) has enabled us to decode the carvings: a patera (libations bowl) and handled jug. A deep bowl has been carved into the top of the object, and it has been suggested that the artefact was re-purposed as a garden planter or bird bath in more recent times. Such a reuse might account for its presence within the cellar.

RTI Image of altar -  (c) Wessex Archaeology
RTI Image of altar – (c) Wessex Archaeology

By Patrick Daniel

Source: Wessex Archaeology

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