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Thousands flock to see fascinating Roman dig

PUBLISHED: 16:39 13 September 2010 | UPDATED: 16:39 13 September 2010

Thousands of visitors have flocked to see an archaeological dig just outside Norwich.

The Caistor St Edmund dig was visited by 5,000 people in just three weeks, all eager to see the fascinating Roman artefacts it has uncovered.

Huge quantities of items have been found during the excavation and the most impressive is a whole late second century or early third century mixing bowl.

The pot has a spout for pouring and bears the scrapes and marks which show that it was used for some sort of mixing.

But it has a small hole in the centre, which archaeologists think could have been caused by normal wear or tear, or was perhaps deliberately made so it could be put into one of the deep pits in the site, in which many items have been found.

Will Bowden, the project director from the University of Nottingham, said: “When they excavated the site in the 1930s they found a lot of these pits containing complete vessels in them and this is what we are finding too.

“We think these pits have some kind of symbolic value, which is why people are putting things in the ground deliberately, because we don’t think they are rubbish pits.

“In graves you do get these pots being ‘killed’, by putting a hole in them, to go with the deceased.

“But you can see that it is very worn so it could easily have been that someone put their pestle through the bottom of it and made the hole.”

One of the trenches being excavated included part of a road in one corner of the site, near to the walls of the Roman town, which was called Venta Icenorum, meaning market place of the Iceni.

The road is believed to have been the main road, before it was cut off by the building of the town walls. In the same trench, deeper excavations have also shown a layer of dark soil in between what is believed to be courtyard surfaces, which the archaeological team thinks could show that there was a period when the town ‘failed’.

Dr Bowden, said: “We are getting a sense that the town has a moment almost of failure. It doesn’t quite work first time round and its fortunes ebb and flow.

“When it is laid out there’s a sense from the street plan that it was laid out much bigger than the actual town, in a speculative way because they were hoping it would take off and people would fill it up.”

When the town walls were built in about the late third century, the team then think there was an explosion of activity.

The dig team had hoped to find evidence linking the settlement to East Anglia’s Iceni queen, Boudica, but other than “bits and pieces” there have been no substantial Iron Age finds.

The dig is the first inside the walls for 75 years. Last year excavations outside the walls uncovered the remains of a fourth-century Roman buried in a shallow grave.

Most of the funding has come from the British Academy and the South Norfolk Alliance, as well as support and permission from landowners the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, while May Gurney and A-Plant have provided all the fencing and containers the team needed.

The team, which includes up to 100 volunteers, many of them local, has also been visited by many families and landowners who have been telling and showing them about some of their own finds.

“We are getting people coming in and it is all adding material to the archaeological map,” said Dr Bowden.

The Time Team and presenter Tony Robinson have also been filming the dig for a special for the Channel 4 programme, due to be aired next year.

Follow the dig team’s blog at http://caistordig2010.wordpress.com

Do you have a story? Call reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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