Roman chariot race track found

By Ted Jeory and Roddy AshworthARCHAEOLOGISTS are awaiting confirmation they have unearthed what has been hailed as a “major” discovery - the first Roman chariot-racing track in Britain.

By Ted Jeory and Roddy Ashworth

ARCHAEOLOGISTS are awaiting confirmation they have unearthed what has been hailed as a “major” discovery - the first Roman chariot-racing track in Britain.

Experts have unearthed in Colchester what they believe to be the remains of the world's biggest Roman chariot-racing track outside Italy and the first one to be found in Britain.

Stone fragments from what could have been a stadium similar in look and size to Rome's famous Ben Hur amphitheatre have been discovered during a dig at Colchester Garrison.

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Officials from English Heritage have inspected the site and are now trying to verify the find, which would be of global significance.

The fragments were uncovered in a straight line stretching over several hundred metres at the Taylor Woodrow housing development on land south of Abbey Field.

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The building company bought the land from private finance initiative partners currently constructing a new Army garrison in Colchester - once the capital of Roman Britain.

The stones were found about three weeks ago, since when excited experts have been asked to remain tight-lipped.

Garrison archaeologist Rob Masefield refused to comment yesterday, other than to say: “We're still digging the site and we are not entirely committed. We cannot release any information at this time.”

But Martin Winter, Colchester Borough Council archaeological officer, said: “People are extremely excited about it - it will be the first chariot track found in Britain.

“It's a major find. In its day, it would have looked like the stadium from the Ben Hur film - it would have been a marvellous sight.

“They found fragments of a stone wall stretching over a few hundred metres at ground level. We're pretty certain it's a chariot track - there's nothing else it could be.”

He added: “The stones from the complete wall would have been robbed by people in the Middle Ages to build St John's Abbey nearby.

“Archaeologists will now start digging trenches for their investigations, which will go on for quite a while I imagine.

“There won't necessarily be a delay as Taylor Woodrow could incorporate the site into their commitments to include open spaces in their development.”

Mike Foster, in charge of the new garrison construction project, said he had been told that it was the biggest chariot track outside Italy.

“There will now probably be delay in the building work for the housing development while a bigger search goes on. Normally when you find things like this, you have to preserve them,” he added.

“I'd love to see a mock-up drawing of what it really looked like. This could be made into something really special for Colchester, an excellent tourist attraction. They could make into the centrepiece of a park perhaps.”

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said one of its inspectors had visited the site and it was now trying to verify the finds.

A spokeswoman for Taylor Woodrow declined to comment.

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