Lecture Details and Reviews

Silchester: Three Centuries of Mapping the Ancient City

1st October, 2013 Dr John Creighton
Dr John Creighton is a senior lecturer at the Dept. for Archaeology, University of Reading.
While the modern excavations of Professor Fulford ( since 1975 ) and the earlier campaigns of the Society of Antiquaries are well known (1890-1909), they are still but a fraction of the many surveys and excavations that have been undertaken. Apparently the Emperor Constantius was buried here and his body discovered in 1283, though the sources for that excavation are decidedly dodgy. But some of the earliest excavation plans come from as early as the 1740s. This lecture will be an amble from antiquarianism to geophysics and airborne remote sensing, seeing how the city has been mapped across generations and how our understanding of it and its setting has changed. The talk derives from a project which has sought to dig out the archives of past work, digitise them and bring them together with modern geophysics to map the townscape and to remember the huge value that earlier work still has to offer us.

Reviews

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.

Valerie Alasia

15th October, 2013.

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