Excavation work uncovers evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement at Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich

PUBLISHED: 13:16 17 September 2012

Body dumped or buried in the defensive ditch

Body dumped or buried in the defensive ditch

Will Bowden

Excavation work by the site of the Roman town at Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich, has uncovered evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement.

The 2012 Caistor Dig took place during the summer outside the walls of the Roman town Venta Icenorum, and the team of experts and volunteers was led by Dr Will Bowden in association with Norfolk Archaeological Trust.

He explained: “This year we were primarily looking for two things. Firstly the Anglo-Saxon occupation of the town, what happened in the town after the Roman period, in this crucial period between the end of the Roman town and the rise of Norwich.

“We found some shapes from aerial photography which looked like they might be Saxon buildings and so we followed those. We dug a trench over the top of one of them and there it was, which was very satisfying.

“The really important thing about this is that we always knew there was an Anglo-Saxon presence around there, because we have the cemetery, but we never knew where people were actually living.

“We found it in an area just across the River Tas. This is the area that the Norfolk Archaeological Trust has recently bought – Dunston Field – and one of the reasons for raising the money for that land was that it was thought that is where there was Anglo-Saxon settlement, and now we have actually proved it.”

He said the type of building they found evidence of was a “sunken featured building” which was similar to those recreated at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.

“They would have been small wooden buildings, very different to the sorts of things they had in the Roman period,” he explained.

“They dug big holes which had suspended floors above them, and these left very distinctive marks in the ground.”

He added: “We excavated one building but geophysics shows a number of other likely structures there too.”

He said the second part of this year’s dig, which finished at the beginning of September, involved looking at the defences of the Roman town. These are a great series of ditches that ran around the town, and which show it was at one time a much, much larger area than what can be seen today.

At two points during the dig skeletons were discovered, both believed to be from the late Roman period.

The first skeleton, thought likely to be female, was discovered early on in a shallow grave and it was thought it had been hit with a plough at some point because the skeleton was headless and skull fragments were found nearby.

The second skeleton was found towards the end of the dig, deeper in the ground in part of the Roman defences.

Dr Bowden said it was not yet clear if the skeleton was male or female because the pelvis was broken into several pieces.

He said: “As yet we have still got to do the analysis on the bones. It does not seem to have been in a formal grave, probably the body was thrown into the ditch and covered up. It must have been covered fairly early on because it still had all its extremities, its fingers and toes.”

The area around Venta Icenorum has been the subject of digs for a number of years, and Dr Bowden said in the future they planned to do work on the surrounding landscape to understand how the town changed, and that this was likely to take the form of field surveys and small excavations.

Are you involved in a new heritage project? Call reporter Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email

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