New dig set to start at Caistor St Edmund Roman town


Archaeologists are revisiting the site of Venta Icenorum, in Caistor St Edmund, in hope of uncovering more secrets from the Roman town on the outskirts of Norwich. 

Members of the public view the the excavations at Caistor St Edmund Roman town during the public dig day last year [Credit: Simon Finlay]

The excavations will begin on August 11, once again being led by Dr Will Bowden from the University of Nottingham, and lasting until September 1. 

Last year saw tremendous success for Dr Bowden and his team, as they focused on the forum in the site, which would have been the centre of all activity. 

They discovered the remnants of a group of buildings that pre-dated the forum, which would have been made of timber and clay, but there was evidence that these had been burnt down in a “catastrophic fire” before the forum had even been built. 

Further discoveries showed that the forum had initially been abandoned by its inhabitants, but then had been rebuilt. 

Dr Bowden said: “This places Caistor in a position of major political importance”. 

After last year’s success the team have decided to cover a much wider circuit this year, digging across the river next to the site. They were able to obtain this land through a grant supplied by the National Archaeology Trust and have high hopes for the excavations. 

Dr Bowden is very aware of the support he has received from local businesses in Norfolk, naming May Gurney, A-Plant and Broadland Environmental Services as particularly helpful. 

He said: “The great thing about this project is the support from local businesses. We would not have been able to extend the circuit without the bridge supplied, for example”. 

The site is open to members of the public from the 11 August, between 9:30am and 5:00pm, seven days a week. The site will also be hosting a family weekend on the 18 and 19 of August – Dr Bowden places emphasis on his great team of volunteers saying, “They will always be available to give a guided tour”. 

Other activities available on the family weekend will include an excavation for the children, a talk by a Roman soldier, a guest appearance from a Roman potter and Boudican war cries. 

Parts of the site were originally excavated between 1929 and 1935 following the publication of dramatic aerial photographs showing evidence of streets and public buildings, but it was left undisturbed until Dr Bowden’s digs began three years ago. The site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed in partnership with South Norfolk Council. 

Five facts about the Roman town of Caistor St Edmund: 

The town was the Romano-British predecessor of the modern county town, Norwich. 

Prehistoric monuments show that before the town was built, the Venta area was already in a place of existing importance. This could be the reason why they chose to place the town here and not in Norwich, where there were greater natural resources. 

All of the buildings were modestly built from timber, but in the time of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117 – 38) the public buildings became much grander. 

The coins of Honorius discovered on the site suggest that in spite of the breakdown in Roman authority in AD 340s, activity continued after AD 400. 

Roman towns such as Venta Icenorum were built to administer the people that the Romans had conquered, and reward those who had helped to conquer them by giving them important jobs in the law courts and town councils. 

Author: Chloe Lyons | Source: Norwich Evening News 24 [August 03, 2012]