0745 GMT October 21, 2019
Experts believe the fourth-century abattoir was set up to prepare the best cuts of beef that were transported to customers miles away along a Roman road found at the site, theguardian.com reported.
They suggest the butchers at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot in south Devon, worked alongside a string of talented craftspeople specializing in deer antler, leather and textiles.
Previous digs at Ipplepen have unearthed Roman coins, a stretch of Roman road and the remnants of vessels from France and the Mediterranean once full of olive oil and garum — fish sauce.
The site is significant because it has undermined the notion that ancient Rome’s influence had not stretched further south-west in the British Isles than Exeter, 20 miles to the north of Ipplepen.
During the latest dig, the focus has been on a spot away from what is thought to be the center of the Ipplepen settlement. They did not find scraps of pottery that suggest homes but a ditch full of 1,700-year-old cattle bones.
The remains are mostly just the heads and feet of cattle — analysis suggests that cattle were raised locally and butchered when they were at the prime age for producing high-quality beef.
Professor Stephen Rippon, from the University of Exeter, who is leading the archeological work, said that if the cattle had been raised and slaughtered by peasant farmers nothing would have been left of them.
“They would have boiled down the bits that have been thrown away and made something like brawn out of them,” he said.
The age of the animals is another big clue. “The normal practice would have been to keep the cattle into old age, pulling ploughs and so on. Our cattle were one and a half to two years old — which fits in with the idea of this being professional beef production.
“We think they were preparing good meat joints and perhaps storing them in barrels of salted water and taking them somewhere else. This is the first time we have found evidence of commercial farming and butchery in the south-west of Britain.
“They would have been taken to market somewhere along the major Roman road we have found here. It is really rare to get animal bones preserved on rural archaeological sites in the south-west as its acidic soils normally dissolve the bones.”
The team also came upon a piece of sawn deer antler, possibly used for making objects such as awls, needles, combs and hairpins. This is the first time that evidence for Romano-British bone or antler working has been discovered in Devon outside of Exeter.
Waste from the smithing of iron found during the excavation indicates that there was a blacksmith’s forge nearby, while the discovery of a stone weight may have been used in the weaving of textiles. Though no direct evidence was found, Rippon believes the cattle hides would have been turned into leather at the site.
“This all builds up a picture of Ipplepen as a settlement that is not a normal farming community but a place where craftsmen are making all sorts of things,” he said.
National Lottery funding has allowed the University of Exeter to expand its work with local communities at Ipplepen. This year, the excavation is playing host to 40 local volunteers, pupils from Ipplepen primary school, and members of the Somerset and Torbay Young Archaeologists’ Clubs.