10-Year Archaeological Project For Caistor Roman Town

By Sarah Morley | 23 June 2006
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an aerial photograph of a field partially flooded in one corner and bordered by a small settlement

An aerial photograph of the Caistor dig area clearly marked by the field boundary. © Norfolk Archaeological Trust

The Roman archaeological site, Venta Icenorum, at Caistor St Edmund just south of Norwich is to undergo a 10-year excavation project in an attempt to delve deeper into its pre-Roman history.

Excavations and surveys will commence around July/August of 2006 and will allow archeologists to find out more about the period of history just before the Romans. It may even change our view of Britain's ancient past.

Michael Bentley, Countryside and Heritage Manager for South Norfolk District Council explained: “We are hoping to discover the real history of Caistor Roman town. There have been many theories as to who inhibited the Roman settlement before the Romans themselves - hopefully this project will uncover the exciting truth.”

It is suggested there might have been an Iron Age settlement on the Roman grounds prior to the Roman settlement, which will hopefully be revealed by the excavation. All of the results will be posted on a website specifically for the Caistor dig.

“We are extremely excited about the upcoming project,” added Mr Bentley. “We have always wanted to discover more information about the settlement.”

an aerial photograph of a field partially flooded in one corner and bordered by a small settlement

The once-thriving Roman town at Caistor is now bordered by a wall whilst the River Tas runs by its western edge.© Norfolk Archaeological Trust

Norfolk Archaeological Trust owns the archaeological site, which was once the captial of the Iceni tribes (a local Celtic tribe), led by Queen Boudicca. This connection was confirmed through finds such as Iceni coins.

After Boudicca’s revolt (around 60 AD) the Caistor area became the Roman capital of East Anglia; they named it Venta Icenorum which means, "The market place of the Iceni."

This Romano-British town is described by Bentley as “only one of three of its kind in Britain” - an accolade gained chiefly to the fact that, unlike many other fomer Roman towns, the site has has not been built on.

It is said by some that the town's demise led to the development of Norwich - at least according to a local rhyme which goes: "Caistor was a city when Norwich was none, Norwich was built of Caistor stone."

Today, Caistor's Roman town still boasts a 20ft town wall remarkably still in tact and visible above ground, having lost only 3ft since Roman times. The wall would have defended the town from attacks.

Caistor already receives many school trips to the archeological site, however Bentley said with the council’s current plans for the area, hopefully “More information than ever will be available to a wide range of students once we get underway with the excavation.”

“There are no intentions to restrict access to the public, whatsoever,” he added. So with the website and the easy access, the public can stay close to the action.

Find out more about Caistor and its archaeological heritage on the Norfolk Archaeological Trust website

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Sarah Morley is the 24 Hour Museum/Norwich HEART Student Writer in Norwich. Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust is the groundbreaking initiative to regenerate, manage and promote one of the most remarkable heritage resources in the UK and in Europe.

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