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13 November 2014

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You are in: Berkshire > History > History links > Can you dig it?

Can you dig it?

The Roman town of Silchester has been excavated by Reading University since 1997. BBC Radio Berkshire's Maggie Philbin paid a visit to the site with gardening expert Colin Evans to look at a Roman garden and try her hand at a spot of archaeology.

The archeological dig at Silchester.

The archeological dig at Silchester.

The Roman name for Silchester was Calleva Atrebatum, which denotes its role as an Iron Age settlement of the Atrebates tribe in southern Britain. Measuring 100 acres within a polygonal earthwork, many of the original walls of the settlement are still visible.

Roman Silchester is unusual in that it was abandoned shortly after the end of the Roman era, whereas most Roman towns in Britain continued to exist after the Romans. As a consequence, the archeological remains of the Roman and Iron age settlement have remained relatively untouched for the past 2,000 years.

Maggie said: "I'm on an archaeological dig in Silchester. It's a tiny little village in the centre of Newbury, Reading and Basingstoke, but it was a very significant Roman town and a really significant Iron Age town."

Professor Michael Fulford said the excavation by Reading University was going well. "The Iron Age streets and lanes are appearing, and the occupation that goes with it." he said. "You can see the well here from a very early Roman date, along with that we're beginning to uncover more from between the Iron Age and Roman times, which is a really exciting unknown period roughly from the 1st Century AD."

An excavated Roman at Silchester

An excavated Roman well at Silchester

More than 100 students from Reading University are working on the archeological dig this summer as part of their archaeology course, many of them camping on site.

Archeologists are able to make many discoveries about aspects of Roman life from surprising sources. For example, they have been able to learn about Roman diet by analysing seeds found in the town's cesspits.

Maggie: "It's such an impressive dig. We've probably got 70 students at the moment on their hands and knees with trowels, and I'm about to join them trowel in hand."

Two archeologists work on the site at Silchester.

Two archeologists work on the site at Silchester.

Professor Fulford said: "You've come into what we've nicknamed the Oyster House due to the finds of oysters. You can see where the walls are, you can see the foundations of this building.

"This excavation is going to take at least another five summers, as we're seeing more and more archaeology from the late Iron Age and earliest Roman age which is very very exciting. I think it's going to take me past retirement!"

Maggie said: "One of the finds I have seen was a tiny little bead the size of a pin head, I'm just amazed you can spot things like that."

Amanda Clarke in the Roman garden at Silchester

Amanda Clarke in the Roman garden at Silchester

Maggie and Colin Evans were also excited to take a look at a Roman Garden which has been planted on the site.

"We can see the Romans grew lots of things that we grow today." said Colin. "Lots of medicinal plants, and things like walnuts, onions, broad beans, cabbages and olives."

"If you ever think 'what did the Romans ever do for us?', they did rather a lot judging from this garden!"

last updated: 29/07/2009 at 16:11
created: 29/07/2009

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