A Roman high street, complete with a pedestrian walkway, shops and a roadside shrine where weary travellers could refresh their spirits and curse their enemies, has been unearthed by archaeologists.
The 200-yard stretch of Roman village life was uncovered in farmland destined for a housing estate in Northamptonshire.
The site is so large, and the finds so plentiful, that archaeologists have yet to uncover many of its secrets.
But because the street and foundations are so well preserved, researchers say it will offer an exceptional glimpse into life in a typical Roman roadside settlement.
The remains were found to the north of Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire.
Archaeologists, funded by English Heritage and the landowners, the Duchy of Lancaster, have been recording and retrieving as much as they can from the five-acre site before the bulldozers move in.
Alex Smith of Oxford Archaeology, who carried out the dig, said: “It’s an unusual site. It is exceptionally well preserved, which is giving us a picture of a normal roadside settlement in this period.”
The archaeologists believe around half the village has been exposed. The rest lies below a 1950s housing estate to the south-east.
On one side of the road they found foundations of at least 18 buildings — possibly homes, shops and workshops. On the other side, they uncovered the remains from two shrines.
Smith said: “The two most important areas are the shrines. One is surrounded by walls. Hundreds of items were found in this area, including brooches, pins and other offerings. A lot had been ritually broken and deposited in the shrine and were arranged around a clearance in the centre.”
Along with fragments of pottery, bone and metalwork, the team found slabs of lead which resemble “curse tablets” found at a shrine in Bath.
These have yet to be deciphered and may reveal the names of the gods being worshipped.
Smith said: “They would evoke a curse on people who had offended them. If someone stole your coat, you would go to the shrine and say to Minerva that you would offer her money in exchange for punishing the person.”
The shrine would have been used by locals and travellers. A later shrine and temple, in the middle of a “village green”, have also been found. From records and finds elsewhere, the archaeologists believe that buildings were stone-built with steeply pitched thatched roofs.
They had no chimneys — the smoke from the central hearths seeped through the thatch. The windows were probably simple squares with wooden frames and sutters but no glass.
The discovery of tweezers, brooches and hairpins, all made from bone, across the site suggest many were homes.
Coins and iron weighing scales are clues that they were used as shops, while needles, chisels and pruning hooks indicate that some could have been workshops.
The village was probably settled in the second century AD when a collection of round stone buildings was built next to a road running along the high ground bordering the Nene Valley.
The dig has also shown something about how the dead were treated in Roman Britain.
Smith said: “There are two main cemetery groups with a mixture of cremations and burials.”
Some heads had been removed and placed between the legs — a practice the Romans believed speeded up the passage into the afterlife.
There are no clues to why the village became deserted.
People stopped living there around the end of the fourth century or start of the fifth as the Saxons arrived.
There are some Saxon buildings in the village, but most of the Roman homes appear to have be unused and so fell into ruin, Smith said.