England’s eclectic history means it’s a nation that is incredibly rich in archaeology. From well-known Neolithic sites like Stonehenge and Avebury, to Roman roads, Saxon hoards and Viking burial sites, the land beneath our feet provides many clues about the country’s past.
Alongside several archaeological sites in the heart of our cities, many finds have been unearthed in the expanses of England’s countryside, giving you the chance to delve into the nation’s history and culture while enjoying the great outdoors. These historic sites and attractions across the country are slowly reopening, although visitors are encouraged to check before they travel.
The Roman Baths
Sat in the centre of Bath and dating back to the first few decades of the Roman occupation of England in around 60-70AD, the Roman Baths provide a unique glimpse into life during that period. Although not discovered until the late 19th century, the remains of the vast Roman temple and bath house once formed part of a small settlement known as Aquae Sulis. The Great Bath is fed by hot spa water, while the changing facilities feature an early version of an underfloor heating system called a hypocaust – highly advanced technology at the time. The site offers history buffs the chance to learn about the numerous archaeological finds from the region, including the Beau Street Hoard, a set of more than 17,000 Roman coins that were found in the city. If you’re looking to explore the site from home you can also discover more with online tours, videos and a 3D model of the Roman baths and Pump Room.
Sutton Hoo, Sussex
Representing Britain’s – and even Europe’s – most impressive archaeological find, the incredible Anglo-Saxon royal burial site at Sutton Hoo unearthed an abundance of medieval treasures. In 1939, an amateur archaeologist discovered a burial mound featuring the imprint of a 27-metre long boat, complete with a central chamber containing the possessions of an Anglo-Saxon king, whose exact identity remains a mystery. Alongside swords, feasting vessels and silverware from the distant Byzantine empire, archaeologists uncovered an unusual ‘human mask’ helmet – one of only four from the period to survive to this day – as well as gold buckles, coins and other artefacts. Many of the treasures are now on display at the British Museum in London, while it’s also possible to explore the 255-acre Sutton Hoo estate, which is looked after by the National Trust.
Bignor Roman Villa
Bignor Roman Villa, West Sussex
Located in the centre of the South Downs National Park, the remains of Bignor Roman Villa help to capture the imagination. Found in 1811 when it was hit by a plough, the rural villa’s exquisite mosaic floors survive to this day, showcasing the incredible craftsmanship of the era. Dating to around the 2nd century and due to re-open on 4 July with limited hours, excavations have revealed jewellery, pottery and a baby burial at the site. Stane Street Roman Road, a route linking London to Chichester, can be found a short distance to the south-east, one of many walking and hiking trails to explore.
Vindolanda - Hadrian's Wall
Telling the tale of the Roman frontier at Hadrian’s Wall, Vindolanda acted as a vital garrison base throughout their time in Britain. Regular excavations uncover new finds year after year, helping to piece together the region’s impressive history – many of these are displayed at the museum at the site. Set amid striking Northumberland countryside and featuring the remains of a bath house, barrack buildings and a religious temple, it is believed Vindolanda was demolished and reconstructed nine times. Relics discovered at the site include a set of wooden writing tablets, considered to be Britain’s oldest remaining examples of texts written by hand , alongside an array of coins, pottery and weaponry.
London Mithraeum, London
Once home to the Roman temple of Mithras, the London Mithraeum sits in the heart of the City as part of Bloomberg’s European Headquarters, close to St Paul’s Cathedral. Archaeological excavations during construction for the building in 2012 unveiled a collection of incredible artefacts, many of which are displayed in the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE – a museum and reconstruction of the temple that exists just 100 metres from its original site. Featuring immersive experiences, it delves into the history of Roman London and a period when the capital was significantly different to how it is today.
Portchester Castle, Hampshire
Standing proudly overlooking Portsmouth Harbour, Portchester Castle has provided a striking defensive position on England’s south coast since the 3rd century. Initially a Roman fort – used to fend off Saxon invaders – it was developed over the centuries into a castle and vast royal residence. A number of the fortifications remain and it is regarded as one of the best preserved Roman forts in northern Europe.
Jorvik Viking Centre
York, North Yorkshire
Excavations in the 1970s at Coppergate in York uncovered a vast array of Viking artefacts from around 1,000 years ago. The site is now home to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which takes you on a journey back in time to explore life in that period. Some 40,000 objects were unearthed during the dig, including everything from shoes and shields to weapons, coins and pottery, all of which have been lovingly preserved by the York Archaeological Trust. The centre’s immersive experience delves into the dig itself and features reconstructions of the houses, workshops and streets of the Viking-age city of Jorvik, as it was all those centuries ago.