The Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester, Hampshire is one of the best known Roman towns in Britain. Unlike most others, it remains today as green fields, protected and undisturbed by modern development. By revealing a plan of all the later buildings within its town walls and recovering an outstanding collection of finds (now in Reading Museum), ambitious excavations at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries gave a glimpse of the potential of the site that modern archaeology, with its more scientific approaches, could unlock.
The challenge has been threefold: first, the undertaking of an archaeological excavation which aimed to characterise the changing architecture, economy and daily life of a major Roman town in Britain and its underlying Iron Age predecessor. This also provided a first class training for our students. Second, to research and publish the results of the excavation to the highest academic standards; and third, to make those discoveries accessible to as wide a public as possible in perpetuity.
The first challenge - to raise the resources to complete the excavation - was met across 18 summers, 1997-2014, which inspired and trained successive generations of archaeology students and public participants. The second challenge, to fund the research and publication of the results, is ongoing. Half of the funding required - £1 million from the Calleva Foundation - has been raised and the next major publication, highlighting the Iron Age discoveries, is on target to appear in 2017. However, though the public was engaged with the discoveries of the project throughout the years of the excavation and with the highlights of the continuing research, addressing the third challenge remains at a formative stage. Solutions include a visitor centre at Silchester, new displays in Reading Museum and online resources, including virtual reconstructions of the changing life of the Iron Age and Roman town.
The excavation, with its astonishing revelation of the Iron Age settlement which led to the foundation of the Roman town, has been achieved in full. Over 18 years, the educational dimension of the project has inspired hundreds of Reading students and other public participants. While academic publications have flowed, supported by collaborations with colleagues in many other UK universities, since the inception of the project there has also been continuing national and international media interest, including a 50 minute BBC documentary entirely devoted to Silchester. In 2011 the project was a significant contributor to the Archaeology Department winning the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.
Most recently, two spin-off, Arts and Humanities Research Council funded projects have begun. One, led by the School of Architecture at the University of Reading with collaborators in Glasgow and Royal Holloway, will explore the sensations of sounds and smells associated with life in one of the Roman houses excavated by the project. The other, involving collaboration with Bournemouth, Nottingham and York Universities, is researching diet through the life of the Iron Age and Roman town. At the same time further spin-offs include two privately sponsored PhD studentships researching aspects of the Iron Age and Roman building and ceramic industries.
Beneficiaries of the project have been numerous and diverse. Participants in the excavation, of which our students were the most numerous, contributed over 1.9 million hours to the project. The general public has followed its progress, and the academic and museum communities contribute to, and benefit from, the ongoing research. An enduring legacy for the benefit of the wider public, in the form of an on-site visitor centre, exhibitions and online resource, has, however, yet to be realised.
Thank you for your support.
which inspired and trained successive generations of Archaeology students
from the Calleva Foundation
1.9 million hours
contributed to the Silchester project
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W M Childs
First Vice-Chancellor, 1926-29