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More than 5,000 finds uncovered at “tantalising” Roman dig site in Aylsham

PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 August 2016

Francis Schute and Diana Duhig work with archaeologist Dan McConnell to excavate one of the kilns.
 PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Francis Schute and Diana Duhig work with archaeologist Dan McConnell to excavate one of the kilns. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

ARCHANT NORFOLK

More than 5,000 finds have been unearthed during the first week of a north Norfolk community dig on a Roman site.

Site reveals pre-Roman occupation

Excavations have revealed evidence of human occupation on the Woodgate site pre-dating the Romans.

The dig has uncovered an Iron Age ditch, pottery and post holes, as well as 20,000-year-old flints.

Owner Peter Purdy said two natural springs fed the site, making it an ideal spot for settlement.

Among the amateur diggers helping last week was Wendy Sadler, from Aylsham, who spent many painstaking hours cleaning a fragment of Iron Age pottery.

After two-and-a-half days Mrs Sadler had carefully scraped off about six cms of soil from the object, revealing a horse’s tooth embedded in its side.

“It’s all fascinating,” said Mrs Sadler who has no previous experience of archaeological digs.

“I’m interested in local history. Peter’s given talks at Aylsham Heritage Centre and I came and looked at the trial trench they dug. There is so much coming out, and it’s so near the surface.”

Up to 70 adults and children a day have been helping reveal the secrets under a field next to Woodgate Nursery, Aylsham.

A final five days of digging begin today, but site owner Peter Purdy and archaeologists are already thrilled at the discovery of two pottery kilns, thousands of broken pots, late Roman coins, and fragments of jewellery.

The nursery is believed to sit on the site of a Roman villa, including a bath house, and experts are hoping funding will be available in future to excavate it.

Among discoveries which caused most excitement during last week’s dig was a piece of kiln lining on which the Roman maker’s finger and thumb prints are clearly visible.

Woddgate Nursery owner Peter Purdy holds a piece of kiln lining that shows the original maker's finger marks. 
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Woddgate Nursery owner Peter Purdy holds a piece of kiln lining that shows the original maker's finger marks. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Site owner Peter Purdy said it had helped bring history alive for the amateur diggers who have included Broadland District Council’s Tots2Teens holiday club members, and pensioners.

John Davies, chief curator and keeper of archaeology with Norfolk Museums Service, described the site as “tantalising” and said it offered a valuable insight into rural Norfolk in Roman times, compared with urban Roman settlements, like Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich.

“It’s very interesting - were the kilns a small-scale industry or were they serving the villa?” asked Dr Davies.

The site was just three miles from the parish of Brampton on the River Bure, second only to Caistor in size and importance in Roman Norfolk, which had been a pottery-producing centre with river access to the now-lost Great Estuary at Yarmouth.

Wendy Sadler during day three of her painstaking work to clean a broken Iron Age pot. Picture; ALEX HURRELL Wendy Sadler during day three of her painstaking work to clean a broken Iron Age pot. Picture; ALEX HURRELL

Dr Davies said the success and strength of community involvement in the project would be vital in supporting bids to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to fund future excavation.

So far the dig, led by Bury St Edmund’s-based Britannia Archaeology, has been paid for by Mr Purdy, donations and fund-raising at events.

Mr Purdy, 52, hopes community digs on the site will become an annual event for decades to come.

The 30-acre Woodgate site has been in his family since the 1840s and he constantly picks up ancient finds from his fields.

He expects cleaning and restoration work on this month’s finds to continue at least until next summer’s dig. The best items would be displayed in Aylsham Heritage Centre, he said.

“It’s just been overwhelming,” Mr Purdy added. “The community spirit is a joy. It’s a wonderful reward for 40 years of wondering what’s here and four years of planning.”

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