Could archeological finds finally start to help solve a 2,000-year-old mystery in Horncastle?
It’s the 4th century AD and a Roman cavalry patrol is returning to Banovallum.
Sentries on the formidable walls wave the riders through the unique ‘staggered’ entrance.
The River Waring is lapping at the walls.
Nearby, boats on the River Bain are being unloaded of prize catches of shell fish having sailed directly from the North Sea near Coningsby.
A few yards away, farmers and labourers are working fertile fields.
The fields are full or crops like barley and wheat, vegetables and even walnuts, plums and cherries.
Contented cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens roam other enclosures marked by hedged ditches.
Those lucky enough not be working are resting in grand villas, located just to the south of the walls.
Tended by servants, they drink from cups imported from Spain and France, eat from decorated pewter plates from Germany and beyond and dip freshly baked bread into olive oil stored in huge amphoras ‘shipped’ from Spain.
There was no shortage of money and wealth in Banovallum, a busy and thriving town.
But, 2,000 years on, no-one can say exactly how much money and wealth.
Indeed, no-one can say how many villas there were...or whether Horncastle was even called Banovallum,
The necessity for those walls - and why the Romans hauled stones ten miles or more to build them - is also shrouded in doubt.
Perhaps, though, answers could be at hand.
Could recent archeological finds finally help historians solve a mystery dating back almost 2,000 years - the importance of Roman Horncastle?
Details of some of those finds emerged in a fascinating talk by Dr Ian Marshman to members of Horncastle’s History and Heritage Society last Wednesday.
Dr Marshman revealed ever since Tudor times, ‘experts’ have put forward theories about why the Romans settled in Horncastle.
There have been countless excavations revealing finds that have set intriguing questions - but no positive answers.
Dr Marshman - who is chairman of the History and Heritage Society and an eminent archeologist employed by the County Council - admits one of the problems is that for hundreds of years, very few people kept records of the majority of those finds.
Vital artefacts - and indeed stones from the very walls themselves - disappeared into private collections.
Some finds were recorded, like a skeleton discovered when a resident dug up an apple tree in Queen Street in 1896.
Another Roman skeleton, discovered at a later date, was of a female who had been buried face down, perhaps as a punishment.
After the Second World War, Horncastle - like many other towns - went through something of a house building boom.
However, as Dr Marshman explained, there was no requirement for developers to ‘report’ Roman finds.
Acres of Roman land were buried beneath bricks and concrete.
Fortunately, the work of local people like Pearl Wheatley meant some Roman treasures were kept safe.
Sections of the wall were given protected status. That didn’t stop the pilfering or the decay.
Only one excavation took place within the walls. Evidence of a building was discovered but no finds with a military connection.
Dr Marshman (and other archaeologists) accept many important finds have been lost forever.
Things changed when Margaret Thatcher’s Government brought in new planning rules. Full archeological surveys had to be allowed as part of any planning permission.
The result? While under pressure builders were beating their brows in frustration, developments like Mareham Road and the aptly named Centurian Park threw up some intriguing finds.
More recently, and construction of a new ‘Eco’ House off Mareham Road produced more artefacts.
Those finds, says Dr Marshman, all offer a tantalising glimpse into what life in Horncastle was like 2,000 years ago and, indeed, before then when iron Age settlers lived in the area.
But Dr Marshman admits there are still no definitive answers.
In a question and answer session at the end of his talk, he revealed Horncastle ‘may have been’ a Saxon shore fort.
By the end of the fourth century, Britain was under attack from Saxons from across the North Sea.
A system of forts was set up, from Hadrian’s Wall to Portsmouth.
The nearest shore fort to Horncastle was probably at Skegness, lost to the North Sea tides hundreds of years ago.
Perhaps, says Dr Marshman, troops based at Horncastle rode towards the coast when there was a threat from invaders.
Perhaps the rich merchants living in those villas took shelter behind the walls until any threat passed.
Perhaps, as others have suggested, those troops - and walls - guarded an inland route for salt which, in Roman times, was more valuable than gold.
All those suggestions are possible but until that one decisive discovery made, the debate and argument will continue.
The search for clues will go on. The fight to save those Roman Walls is underway.
Frustratingly. places with much less to shout about than Horncastle have built booming tourism industries from their often tenuous Roman links.
Food for thought perhaps...before it is too late.