Silchester mapping project (2005-10)


The plan of Silchester by Stukeley in 1722 when the Roman name was thought to be Vindomis, rather than the Calleva Atrebatum we know it as today. Many of the topographic details are correct, except for the actual shape of the town.Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) is a Roman town just south of Reading in Hampshire. The last synthesis of the site was written by George Boon in 1974. This project sought to provide a new comprehensive overview of past work done at the site, and to knit it all together spatially within a GIS system, not just examining the area within the walls, but that in the immediate environs as well. The project was led by John Creighton.

A key element of this is the large scale geophysics that has taken place both within the town walls, and also outside it. Over 250 hectares have been surveyed with high resolution gradiometery, and other methods have also been used (resistivity, ground penetrating radar, gamma-ray detection). Much of this was assisted by Rob Fry.

All of this data is being combined with the many other forms of mapping:

  • digitisation of all the former excavations where plans exist;
  • analysis of all the map evidence back to the tithe maps and antiquarian illustrations (e.g. Stukely's plan of 1722);
  • soil maps;
  • aerial photographs (from the national mapping programme);
  • earlier fieldwalking data (collected by Mark Corney).

An example of some of the geophysical interpretation, with gradiometery results from the Rampier Copse enclosure  to the south-west of the town on the left and their interpretation on the right.The work has revealed significant new information about the defences and cemeteries surrounding the town, as well as adding finer resolution to the 'Great plan' established by the Society of Antiquaries in their programme of excavation at the end of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth. One of the aims of the project is to test some of the ideas explored in Creighton (2006) Britannia, in which I wondered about town formation and planning.

Publications and Resources

The results are fully published in a monograph:

Creighton, J. with Fry, R. (2016) Silchester: changing visions of a Roman town. Integrating geophysics and archaeology - the results of the Silchester Mapping Project 2005-10. Britannia Monograph Series, 28. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, London, pp448. ISBN 9780907764427

This is supported by an interactive layered PDF of the site and GIS files of the results and interpretation which are archived on the Archaeological Data Service:

John Creighton, Robert Fry (2016) Silchester Mapping Project 2005-10 [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]  

SponsorsGeophysical survey in action, in this case using a four-wheel resistivity meter (A Geoscan MSP40)

The work was also sponsored by the British Academy and the HEFCE Centres for Learning in Teaching and Learning initiative.

The student benefit

Many undergraduates gained a taster of geophysics on this project. Five had 6-week paid placements on it, and four of these have gone on to develop this further in MSc programmes, PhDs or in professional practise. Further fieldwork is planned and students often volunteer to gain extra experience.


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