Reviewed by Valerie on 15th October, 2013
At the October meeting of HAHG, John Crichton, senior lecturer at the Department for Archaeology
of Reading University, spoke about “Silchester: Three Centuries of Mapping the Ancient City”.
The talk derived from a project which sought to dig out the archives of past work,
digitize them and bring them together with modern geophysics to map the townscape and liberate
the huge value that earlier work still offers.
Therefore, the talk went from antiquarianism to geophysics and airborne remote sensing,
seeing how Silchester has been mapped across generations and how our understanding of it and its
setting has changed.
The time span of excavation stemmed from 1722, when William Stukeley thought he had found a
Roman forum called Caer Segout, based on a fragment of tombstone, but in 1745 John Wright identified
from parch marks the layout of Roman roads on the site and located the market place at the centre.
A key source is the 1759 map drawn by John Starr, outlining the whole site within the town walls.
Excavations continued to be carried out throughout the 19th century. Then the Society of
Antiquaries in London took to digging small parallel trenches, which led to a Great Plan, making a
major impact on Romano-British archaeology.
1973 saw the introduction of better excavation techniques, and photography revealed an earlier
enclosure of the late Iron Age intersecting with the later Roman boundaries. Since then Mike Fulford
has overseen a quarter century of excavation of the site.
In 1993 new geophysics technology arrived and in the year 2000 road gradiometry interpretation was
carried out but the result was less clear than the Victorian Great Plan so there was no point in
trying to better that.
However, six years later high definition geophysics was developed which together with digitization
of previous records, early photographs, field walking and high gradiometry enabled interpretation
of the 250 hectare neighbouring areas. These new discoveries located three cemetaries just outside
West gate with high status burials, and two in the temple enclosure, four cremation cemetaries plus
late Roman inhumations from 1st century AD. Also identified were lots of defences and many
earthworks without dates, as well as tile making industry and kilns.
So GIS (Geographical Information System) is helping to manage the site at Silchester for future
interpretation of these historic remains.
15th October, 2013.