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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds MEAGHAN CARLEY: So if it opened onto the basins, what were they used for?

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds SIMON KEAY: Well, that’s a very challenging question, because one of the big issues of Portus is that, because the buildings are used almost continuously from the moment that they are created, we get a whole series of internal developments and changes. And what that means is that it’s actually very difficult to get down to the Trajanic levels, the original foundation levels, of this building, to understand exactly how it was used. And in fact, many of the walls you can see in front of you, within it, are actually later than that initial Trajanic building. Having said all of that, we have actually managed to come onto the surface of the floor of the building.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds And when we’ve looked at that, and we’ve found post-holes, we’ve found sandy surfaces, we’ve found lots of ships’ nails, bronze and iron. When we take that into account, with the position of the building, where it opens onto the Trajanic basin, the idea that we’re playing is, that this was used in some form for housing ships, perhaps for repair, and possibly also for the construction of ships. So it’s a very unique building, one that we don’t fully understand. And, for example, we don’t really understand the relationship between the building and the Trajanic basin, whether there was a ramp down, or how the ships that might have used it were moved backwards and forwards through the front of the building.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds But one has to think of, I think, a ship of some kind taking up this space, either being constructed or being repaired, and then being moved out into the basin and moved back again.

Use of Building Five

As you are starting to realise, archaeology rarely provides clear answers. The role of Building 5 is a case in point.

But as Simon said to Meaghan, we aren’t clear how the building worked in relationship to the Trajanic Basin: in particular we need to know how ships were moved from the cover of the building across the esplanade in front of it and into the waters of the Trajanic basin. But we are very confident that the building related to ship building and/ or repair. We base this on a range of evidence, but in particular on its location of the buildings in relation to the Trajanic and Claudian basin, the plan and size of the building, and on the presence of post holes and nails of a kind commonly used on Roman ships.

The much later shipsheds, or Atarazanas at Seville and Barcelona are a possible parallel, as are even later structures in the Arsenale of Venice.

For the sceptics - what else could a large building of this size and position in a port be used for ?

What do you think?

CGI model of Building Five produced by Grant Cox

CGI model of Building Five - Grant Cox © University of Southampton

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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

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