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Extensive study into Roman town

PUBLISHED: 08:45 19 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 October 2010

The remains of Caistor Roman town.

The remains of Caistor Roman town.

A major archaeological research project on a nationally important Roman town is to be launched in Norfolk within the next few weeks.

A major archaeological project at the nationally-important Caistor Roman town in Norfolk is to be launched within the next few weeks.

Researchers hope the origins and development of the settlement at Caistor St Edmund, just south of Norwich, will emerge for the first time during eight to 10 years of work.

The town was once the regional centre of East Anglia and is one of only three Romano-British towns remaining undeveloped.

The site, owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed by South Norfolk Council, was also the market town for the Iceni tribe, led by Queen Boudicca.

Archaeological interest began in 1928, and excavations were made between 1929 and 1935 on the forum, a bath complex, the south gate, a house and two temples. Later work involved aerial photography and metal detector surveys, revealing cemeteries and other remains.

The new project aims to go further and look at whether the town, known as Venta Icenorum, was established on a new site or on an Iron Age centre.

Through surveys and excavations, it will look at the end of the town and the nature of the post-Roman occupation, as well as the significance of early and middle Saxon cemeteries in the area.

The research team wants to assess Caistor's regional context, whether the River Tas was navigable as far as the settlement and how levels within the valley have changed.

Michael Bentley, countryside and heritage manager for the district council, said it was looking forward to the start of the project, to be led by Dr William Bowden, lecturer in Roman archaeology at Nottingham University.

Mr Bentley said: "It's incredibly exciting because until now everything that's under the ground has been conjecture, more or less. There have been theories about what is there; what the history of the site was.

"The work that we are going to be doing will clear up all of that and some of the myths, whether the town was a success or not and its history before the Romans came.

"This is one of the most important Roman sites in the UK, and any project that is associated with it carries with it that kind of importance."

Information gleaned will be published on a website, to be hosted by the council and launched once work starts in late July or early August.

Preliminary geophysical survey work has just been done by Dr Bowden and Dr David Bescoby, a research fellow at UEA. This has already revealed another substantial building and the wooden drainage pipes that would have served the town's road network.

The project is the main part of a long-term scheme to develop the site.

In 1995, an advisory board made up of the trust, parish, district and county councils and the county museums service was formed to put together a strategy for the Roman town's future.

A study was conducted in 2003, and people were asked to vote on four possible options, ranging from doing nothing to turning it into a top-flight tourist attraction.

The latter narrowly topped the poll. But, with costs estimated at £1.4m, the board doubted whether the venture could pay its way. Instead, a revised plan was agreed that included an interpretation scheme and better public access to the remains.

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