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First evidence of an Iron Age 'Town' in Britain – University of Reading

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First evidence of an Iron Age 'Town' in Britain

Release Date 17 July 2009

Archaeologists from the University of Reading have made the exciting discovery of the first evidence of an Iron Age town in Britain, at the Silchester Roman site in North Hampshire.

The University of Reading's Department of Archaeology has been excavating and researching the major Iron Age centre and Roman town Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) since 1997. Major questions concern the origin of Calleva in the Iron Age, particularly with it being one of a very small number of towns with evidence of settlement before the Roman conquest of southern Britain of AD 43.

The University has today announced the results of the 2008 dig, during which signs of an Iron Age street-grid suggesting a degree of organisation of the pre-Roman settlement un-paralleled in Britain, were found. Also discovered last year was evidence of widespread burning at the site. This, along with other important finds, suggests the site could have been destroyed at the hands of the celebrated Boudicca, who in AD 60/61 led a major uprising against occupying Roman force.

This year's six week dig, which finishes on 9August, aims to uncover more fascinating finds relating to Boudicca and Iron Age town planning, as well as shed more light on the changing life of Calleva's inhabitants.

Professor Michael Fulford, Director of the Silchester Town Life Project, said: "After 12 summers of excavation we have reached down to the 1st century AD and are beginning to see the first signs of what we believe to be the Iron Age and earliest Roman town. The discovery of the underlying Iron Age settlement is extremely exciting. While there are traces of settlement beneath Roman Verulamium (St Albans) and Canterbury and close to the site of Roman Colchester, none of these resembles the evidence that we have here at Calleva of a planned town. How this Iron Age town then translated into a Roman centre is very interesting. What was kept? What was discarded? Did the lifestyle of the inhabitants change? Was there a big influx of newcomers from outside Britain?

"We now have evidence that the town was burnt down sometime after AD 50 and before AD 80. The possibility that this was at the hands of Boudicca when leading the largest British uprising during the Roman occupation is hugely significant. It was not thought the revolt passed this way. One big change which followed the destruction was the laying out of a completely new street grid on a totally different alignment to that of the Iron Age. Was this just taking advantage of an opportunity to rationalise the town plan, or a Roman thumbs down on the British arrangement which they had found?"

The Silchester project is both a training field school and a research excavation. Its overall aim is to trace the Iron Age origins, subsequent Roman development and eventual abandonment of one 'insula', or city block, of the town.

During the Field School, which runs until 9 August, visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00 and 4:30pm. Groups must book in advance.

Open days will be held on Saturday 18 July and 1 August running from 10:00am – 4:30pm. For further information visit www.silchester.reading.ac.uk/

Watch a BBC report on the Iron Age find

Ends

For all University of Reading media enquiries please contact Alex Brannen on 0118 378 7338

Notes for Editors:

Media are welcome to visit the site. Pre-arranged tours can be made with Professor Michael Fulford who is also available for interview.

Silchester, Hampshire is the location of the great Iron Age and Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, one of the very few major towns of Roman Britain not to have continued down to the present day. Excavations in the late 19th and early 20th century produced a remarkable and now, very famous plan of the Roman town. Not until the end of the 20th century did the potential for understanding how the town changed over time begin to be realised.

The Silchester Town Life Project is started its 13th season on insula ix, just to the north-west of the forum, on the 29th June and continuing to the 9th August. The overarching aim of the project is to capture as rich a picture of changing town life as techniques will allow from the origins of Calleva in the Iron Age through to the abandonment of the town between the 5th and the 7th century AD.

For six weeks every summer, archaeology students from Reading and enthusiasts from as far away as the US and Australia attend the Silchester Field School. This year they are joined over the six weeks by some 40 pupils from schools in Berkshire and Hampshire. The 16-18-year-olds work at the site for one week and fully take part in the excavation by digging, planning, recording and processing finds.

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