Probus hears town planning didn’t start with the Romans

This is one of the discoveries made at what is commonly called the Silchester dig, at the important Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, the field research project undertaken by the Archaeology department of Reading University. The director of this annual summer activity since 1997, Amanda Clarke, was the guest speaker at the latest evening meeting of the Probus Club of Basingstoke where she had an attentive audience of retired business managers.

Nearly 1100 first year archaeology students have worked more than 102 weeks on one third of one Roman “insula” or block, an area only 55 x 55 metres, on this site which most people think of as a Roman town. Excavations have shown that the Romans took over an existing large Iron Age town established around 40BC, which had clearly defined buildings in a distinct layout set on the axis of the winter and summer solstices. The Roman grid street pattern was not firmly established until the second half of the first century and the surrounding defensive stone wall, which can be seen today, built in the third century.

Because there was no running water on site both the Iron Age and Roman populations sank wells which the Romans lined with wooden wine barrels. The Iron Age town had trade links with European countries that brought in pottery, olive fruits and exotic seasonings from the Mediterranean area.

The population varied over the centuries and has been calculated that it was at least 3000 and up to several times that figure at its peak. For example the Roman amphitheatre, built outside the wall, could seat 10,000 people.

Apart from the usual physical work with a hand trowel, modern technology is used on the excavation with computer records and hand held tablets that can be read in full sunlight while a drone is used to take aerial photographs of the site. The logistics of housing, feeding and providing for the personal needs of up to two hundred people on site were graphically illustrated especially with the solar showers and fifty seven portaloos.

More information about the activities of the Probus Club of Basingstoke can be seen on their web site or potential members can phone their secretary Gerry Anslow on 01256 325253.