Before Highcross: Vote now for research teams that solved Leicester’s shopping centre history mysteries

An aerial view of the dig before the construction of Highcross.

Archaeologists who examined the ground beneath Leicester’s shopping mall district are up for a research award – and they need your vote.

Decades of excavation exploring Roman and medieval Leicester by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) has been nominated in the 2023 Current Archaeology Awards for Research Project of the Year. The competition is decided by the public – cast your vote on the website by Wednesday 1 February 2022.

The research, recently published in the most comprehensive book ever written on the archaeology of Leicester, and featured in Current Archaeology (issue 387), draws together evidence for what lay below Highcross shopping mall, excavated by ULAS from 2003-06, and the original Shires shopping centre, excavated in 1988-99. The result is a wide-ranging and compelling account of what life was like for people living in Leicester during its ancient past.

The book, featuring the research of dozens of ULAS staff, traces the development of the Roman and medieval town, beginning some 2,000 years ago, and demonstrates what a vibrant and diverse community lived within its opulent town houses, which were decorated with mosaics and wall paintings, and tightly packed timber burgage plots. It then looks at the ‘lost’ medieval parish churches of St Peter and St Michael, demolished 500 years ago, and the 1,600 burials that surrounded them.

One aspect of the research, featured in Current Archaeology (issue 388), has revealed links between Leicester’s Roman predecessor and North Africa. Drawing together a diverse range of artefacts, structures, and burials from excavations across the city, this research has revealed a cosmopolitan city with connections across the Roman Empire and is, for the first time, starting to tell the story of the city’s early migrant population.

Mathew Morris, Project Officer at ULAS and one of the lead authors of the research said: “We are delighted with the nomination for Current Archaeology’s Research Project of the Year. Leicester is one of the most excavated cities in Britain and it is a privilege to be able to share the results of our work with a wide audience. Our research is providing fascinating new insights into Leicester’s past, whose ancient inhabitants were clearly as diverse as those who reside in the city today.”