Archaeologists dig up Norfolk gardens to shed new light on Roman town

Teams of volunteers digging around the modern village of Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich close to the Roman town of Venta Icenorum to understand the extent of the settlement. Photo: Steve Adams Teams of volunteers digging around the modern village of Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich close to the Roman town of Venta Icenorum to understand the extent of the settlement. Photo: Steve Adams

Monday, August 25, 2014
6:30 AM

With a Roman town buried beneath a field on their doorsteps, villagers in Caistor St Edmund have grown used to visiting archaeologists searching for secrets of the past.

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But the excavations have now moved even closer to home, with experts digging up villagers’ gardens to hunt for vital clues to how far the Roman town of Venta Icenorum stretched.

Householders in various places around the village agreed to allow the trowels to be turned on their gardens to look for evidence of the settlement’s range.

Teams of more than 20 volunteers have been digging, examining, washing and recording finds, taking a day to complete each one metre square pit.

And Giles Emery, from Norvic Archaeology, said: “People see the field and the walls and think that’s the town, but the settlement actually extends further than that and in different directions.

“Thanks to the generosity of people living in the village, we’ve been able to investigate that through test pits in their gardens – places which have not been tested before.

“We’ve been finding out what’s been buried there, which people have been walking across for all these years without knowing what was below their feet.”

Mr Emery said the results had been good. He said: “We’ve seen a lot of Roman pottery in the area to the north-east of the town, which is where the Roman road was, so it looks like the settlement extended along that.

“We’ve had fragments of glassware, which we’re quite excited about as it’s possible that some of that was manufactured in the town.

“There’s evidence of metalwork as well, and we’ve found some prehistoric flints, which makes you wonder just how long this site was occupied.”

Mr Emery said volunteers Mike Pinner and Chrissy Sullivan had done an excellent job of knocking on doors asking villagers if they were happy for archaeologists to dig up their lawns.

The excavations, which have been paid for thanks to a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, will continue for the rest of this week and could carry on beyond that.

The project also includes a group of volunteers researching the history of Caistor St Edmund and a group who are interviewing people to build up an oral history of the village.

Parts of the Venta Icenorum site was originally excavated between 1929 and 1935, following the publication of dramatic aerial photographs showing evidence of streets and public buildings, which made national newspaper headlines.

Fresh excavations started in 2009, led by Dr Will Bowden, from the University of Nottingham. Those excavations uncovered fresh detail about the site.

Among their finds were the remains of a seemingly unique Roman building, an Anglo-Saxon building, a headless skeleton and another skeleton which had placed in a shallow grave.

Have you made an interesting archaeological discovery? Call Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk.

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