Visit to the Silchester Excavations – Roman Town Life Project

Ditch in Insula IX

Ditch in Insula IX

The group took a day off from records, pottery and animal bones to visit Reading University’s excavations at Insula IX and the new trench in Insula III, and were given a detailed tour by Amanda Clarke the Director. The excavation had now reached down to the earliest levels on the site representing the Late Iron Age. The group were able to see the 3rd century Roman road level over a metre above the Iron Age layer with intervening stratigraphic levels. The Iron age streets were interestingly laid out in a north west/south east orientation whereas the later Roman streets were laid out in and north south and east west orientation suggesting who was now in charge at Silchester. This years’ excavation had revealed an Iron Age ditch with an ankle breaker slot rather like a Roman military ditch, but it had been dated by iron Age coins found in the ditch fill. Roman military finds had however been found at Silchester. A large rectangular hall outlined by slots and post holes had also been discovered, possibly the largest Iron Age building so far found in Britain and suggesting an important person lived at Silchester.  Around it a number of round houses were being excavated.

Wall in Insula III

Wall in Insula III

The new Insula III had been opened to locate the alleged Roman Baths possibly part of an important building as some monumental stone work had been located in Insula IX which may be associated with it.  Unfortunately the Victorians had appeared to have just dug a large hole destroying valuable stratigraphy and had not dated the buildings. This emphasised the value of modern methods of excavation, recording of the stratigraphy and finds in order to date and interpret the archaeology in post-excavation. Some walls were however appearing and some late Roman archaeology near the surface which had been missed by the earlier excavators had been found so all was not lost.

The tour was concluded with a visit to the ‘finds area’ where the recently washed material was laid out. A number of cases containing the various pottery types found at Silchester showed great similarity to the types currently being processed by the Marcham group. The finds manager showed the group some of the special finds of Roman metal work including a copper alloy toilet set, a brooch and an unusual jug handle shaped like a leg and foot. There was also some unique glass imported into the late Iron Age settlement in the Ist century AD. The richness of the objects hinted at a wealthy community possibly the base for King Verica or another important Iron Age leader, in touch and trading with the Roman world before the conquest.

John Hawes, 8 August 2013

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