Earliest evidence of Roman irrigation found by archaeologists near lost medieval village

By Ben Miller | 20 March 2014

Archaeologists say the discovery of what could be Britain's earliest Roman irrigation system is "tremendously significant"

A photo of an ancient drainage system in a sandy plot of archaeological land
Roman pit-wells found by archaeologists in Cambridge© Dave Webb
A set of carefully-constructed ditches, thought to be the earliest evidence of Roman irrigation in Britain, have been discovered by archaeologists working as part of a £1 billion development by the University of Cambridge in an area occupied by settlements since Prehistoric times.

A lost medieval village is now being pursued by experts at the northern end of the North West Cambridge site, where they hope to investigate how civilisation has adapted to living in an area isolated from river valley water supplies.

A photo of a large brownfield archaeological site with various measuring tools lying about
Grapevines or asparagus could have been planted in the beds© Dave Webb
“The area has a ridgeway where the gravels meet the clay,” says Chris Evans, the Head of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

“Our findings from excavating around the ridgeway have unearthed zebra-like stripes of Roman planting beds that are encircled on their higher northern side by more deep pit-wells.

“The gully-defined planting beds were closely set and were probably grapevines or possibly asparagus.

“Extraordinarily, after carefully peeling off the clays, we saw a series of ditches lining the wells and the horticultural beds.

“Clearly, in dry spells, water could have been poured from the pit-wells into the ditches to reach the beds.

“This is a tremendously significant find that reflects the area’s intense agricultural regime from the Roman period.”  

The findings suggest communities lived in the area from as early as the later Neolithic period, between 2800 and 2200BC, and through the later Bronze, Iron and Roman ages.

  • Public talks will be held on March 21, March 28 and April 4 2014. For more information visit nwcambridge.co.uk.

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