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Historic England Research Records

Calleva Atrebatum

Hob Uid: 241057
Location :
Hampshire
Basingstoke and Deane
Silchester, Mortimer West End
Grid Ref : SU6400962408
Summary : The Late Iron Age oppidum and Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum. The earliest phase of occupation dating to the late Iron Age shows evidence of street planning, traces of circular and rectangular buildings, metalworking, including the working of precious metals and contacts within Britain and on the continent to France, Italy, Spain and the Mediterranean. Coin evidence names leaders, Tincomarus, Eppillus and Veria supporting evidence this was the centre of the Atrebates. After 43 AD the settlement became the centre of the client kingdom of Cogidubnus, later the centre for the Roman administrative county of the Atrebates. It then comprised a regular grid street plan with public buildings including baths, temples a forum basilica, a mansio (inn for travellers) and an amphitheatre. Housing ranged from high status town houses to timber-framed buildings. The recovery of military equipment has been interpreted as evidence for a possible fort; however, no structural features of a fort have yet been recorded. By the later third century AD the stone town wall had been built, replacing an earlier earthen bank and the basilica downgraded to an industrial hall used for metalworking and a mint. Other late Roman evidence includes a possible church. Occupation of the town continued into the beginning of the fifth century, possibly extending to the late sixth-early seventh century. The reasons for abandonment are not yet known but involved the deliberate backfilling of wells with building material, either as part of a policy of discouraging the return of people evicted against their will, or the systematic reclamation of land for cultivation through demolition of buildings and infilling of residual hollows left by pits and wells. The site is in the care of English Heritage.
More information : Area SU 6394 6240: CALLEVA ATREBATUM (ROMAN CITY) [G.S.] (1)

Site of Roman town with wall, gates and earthworks including amphitheatre, scheduled as an ancient monument. (2)

SILCHESTER - CALLEVA ATREBATUM - Calleva of the Atrebates: Belgic Oppidum and Roman Town.

Topographical Position: The site occupies the eastern end of an elevated gravel plateau. It was chosen for occupation because of the availability of water (at the present day a spring rises within the walled area) and the large expanse of easily-cleared heathland.

History: Silchester is mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth (3) under its modern name but there is no description. The earliest description is by John Leland (4) who visited the site circa 1540. He was impressed by the wall and noted the cropmarks of the streets. In Camden's Britannia of 1586 (5) is a fairly detailed description mentioning Onion's Hole, the lair of a giant there and he correctly associates the cropmarks with underlying streets. Stukeley (6) has the first published (and the most inaccurate) plan of the town which he first visited in 1722.There is an earlier estate survey at Stratfieldsaye House dated 1653 in which the plan of the walls is fairly accurately given. Stukeley identified the amphitheatre as such; it had previously been thought to be the remains of a castle. Aubrey (7), Hearne (8), Ward (9) and Colt Hoare (10) also visited and described the town site.

Archaeology : Lord Burghley possessed an inscription from Silchester which is now in Trinity College Cambridge, no doubt of chance finding. So were presumably the objects which formed the collection of Robert Betham the Rector, 1698-1719. Any digging would have been confined to following a wall or pavement and there is scant record before the 18th century. John Stair was probably the first to be interested in recovering a plan. Letters now in the British Museum show that he found an inscription in the Forum, that he had excavated several buildings and was working on a plan. This latter of 1714 was inaccurate but by 1744 in association with a surveyor named Wright a plan was produced which was not improved until Henry Maclauchlan's plan of 1850. Professor John Ward (9) visited Silchester with Stair and Wright in 1745 and a plan with notes taken from the letters was published. Stair worked on until at least 1752 and his activities are probably indicated by the vignette plan on Isaac Taylor's map of Hampshire 1759. In the 19th century began the great period of activity which has continued to the present day. Part of a mansio was exposed near the south gate in 1833 and in 1864 excavation was begun under the stimulus of the second Duke of Wellington. The Duke had received a collection of antiquities from the farmer and persuaded the Rector, the Reverand J G Joyce to open some of the likely areas. From 1864-84, the Forum-Basilica, a polygonal temple, some houses and the north, south, east and amphitheatre gates were excavated. His discoveries were published (11-13) and are described in great details in his private journals in Reading Museum. Though the work was mainly concerned with the acquisition of mosaics and small objects some attempt at the interpretation of stratification was attempted. In 1890 the grant scheme to uncover the entire area bounded by the wall was placed before the Society of Antiquaries of London. Work began on 23rd June 1890 and continued under the supervision of G E Fox, W H St J Hope, M Stephenson, F G Hilton-Price, J Challenor-Smith and J B P Karslake. Wherever practical the area was dug by insulae (the street-plan as revealed by crop-marks had been published on the OS 25" 1873). Excavation of each insula was determined by the availability of the ground for agriculture and the necessity to fill in after. Structural decay prevented buildings being left open - the Forum opened by Joyce had nearly disintegrated by 1908.
The ground was trenched, the area between being probed to detect pits or wells. Finds of potsherds and coins were not related stratigraphically and the buildings were left undated. Phases of construction were determined from extant remains: finds were labelled by Insula or Pit number. Though the reports of the year's excavation were published (14-24) The Great War prevented publication of the specialists' reports and only recently has much of the collection been catalogued. After 1909 Colonel J B Karslake continued excavation of the outer earthwork and in 1938-9 Mrs M Cotton conducted exploratory excavations of the defences as the Ministry of Works were conserving the wall. From 1939 to 1947 further earthworks were found by air-photography and these have been investigated in 1954-6. Apart from a few objects at Stratfieldsaye House the bulk of the objects found are at Reading Museum. A small Museum is maintained at the town site.

The identification of Silchester with Calleva Atrebatum.
Horsley (25) is credited with having been the first to prove that Silchester was the Calleva Atrebatum of the 7th, 13th, 14th and 15th routes of the Antonine Itinerary. He was the first to publish the identification but from a note of Hearne's (26) we know that Edmund Halley the astronomer held the same view as early as 1718. Hearne like most of his contemporaries did not accept this identification preferring it to be VINDOMIS. In 1907 an inscription found at the temple in Insula 35 left no room for doubt as it contained the word CALLEVAE.

The sequence of occupation at Silchester. There is no mention of Calleva by the ancient historians. In the Ravenna Cosmography ten towns are distinguished from the rest by the tribal name. Calleva is one and is similarly mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary. In Ptolemy's Geographies it appears as the only town of the Atrebatioi. The name is undoubtedly that of a tribal cantonal capital under Roman administration.

Caesar conquered the Gaulish Atrebates in 57 BC and appointed Commius to rule them. The latter rebelled in 52 BC and it is recorded (27) left Gaul for this country. At the end of a long series of uninscribed coins attributable to the early years of Atrebatic settlement here appears a coinage bearing the name Commius, implying that he fled to an already existing settlement in this country.

The northward movement of the Atrebates may have brought about the founding of Silchester between 15 BC and AD 10. Before the Roman Conquest they were absorbed by the Catuvellauni. The site has yielded no relics which can be ascribed to a period before the late 1st century BC. Some rare quarter-staters of Tincommius bear the letters CA - best understood as Calleva - indicating a town in the last few years BC. Even more rare quarter-staters of Eppillus (AD 5-10) are inscribed Calle or Callev and indicate that at the latest Calleva was founded in the first decade of Christ. An earthwork underlying the Roman town represents the Belgic defence [see SU 66 SW 1.1 for other views]. To the south are radiating entrenchments or dykes [SU 66 SW 1.2] of a type probably contemporary with this earthwork. A small quantity of Belgic material, including evidence for a mint, has been found in the immediate area.

After the Conquest roads were laid to the Belgic earthwork but in the late first century AD a much larger area was enclosed by the massive bank and ditch of the Outer Earthwork [SU 66 SW 4.3] Shortly after, the area was reduced by about 25 acres on the west. SU 66 SW 4.4. A street-plan SU 66 SW 4.5 was laid down within this area about the time of Hadrian. The area of the town was further reduced by a bank and ditch shortly after superseded by a masonry wall and ditch on the same line in the Antonine period: SU 66 SW 4.6. The history of the town probably followed a conventional plan with substantial public buildings [see SU 66 SW 4.7 - 4.12]. A probable Christian church was built in the late 3rd to early 4th century SU 66 SW 1.13. Numbers of late 4th century coins from the Forum area seem to show that local government was functioning to the last. The latest datable relic is a reused pillar inscribed in Ogam: SU 66 SW 4 &17. There are earthworks on Padworth Common which are possibly a defence against the penetration of Saxon settlers from the Thames valley in the 5th and 6th centuries. (28-50)

Name 'CALLEVA ATREBATVM' accepted for 4th edition Roman Britain Map.

SU 6400 6244: Late Iron Age oppidum or nucleated settlement and origin of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum and associated earthworks extending circa 129 hectares. Recent excavations have indicated two main phases of pre-Roman occupation. The earliest dates from the mid 1st century BC when wooden round houses were constructed. Towards the end of the 1st century BC the round houses were replaced by a more formal rectlinear arrangement of streets, plots and timber buildings. The Iron Age settlement was protected by outlying earthworks to west and south and by a closer irregular western arc of banks and ditches represented by earthworks west of Rye House and in Rampier Copse. Scheduled. (51)

Although the entire plan of the Roman town had been revealed by 1909 from excavations, recent work has shown that between 80% and 90% of the site had been left undisturbed, including much of the pre-second century AD settlement. Recent excavations have revealed that during the early first century AD a metalled street plan, rectangular buildings, palisades and well-ordered rubbish pits were laid out. It is also thought that the inner earthworks, which resemble in form the plan of the later third century town, were also constructed. There was also evidence for metalworking, including precious metals, contacts both within Britain and on the continent to France, Italy, Spain and the Mediterranean. Coin evidence names leaders Tincomarus, Eppillus and Veria supporting claims this was the centre of the Atrebates. After 43 AD the settlement became the centre of the client kingdom of Cogidubnus, then the centre for the Roman administrative county of the Atrebates. It now comprised a regular grid street plan with public buildings including baths, temples and forum basilica. Housing ranged from high status town houses containing mosaics and painted wall plaster, to timber-framed buildings. It has been also suggested, from the recovery of military equipment, that there was also a fort at Silchester. However, no structural features have yet been recorded. By the later third century AD the town wall had been built and the basilica downgraded to an industrial hall used for metalworking and a mint.
The reasons for the abandoment of Silchester are not yet fully understood. Excavations of Insula IX show that the town was as busy and as densely occupied as other Roman towns in southern Britain, and there was a continuity of occupation continuing into the early fifth century AD. The lack of Saxon material at Silchester in context to what is known about developments in and around the Upper Thames and Dorchester-On-Thames from the early 5th century and Winchester in the sixth-seventh century has been interpreted as that an elite , with the appropriate resources and organisational structure capable of territorial expansion, had not emerged within the vincinity before AD 600. It is then assumed, that occupation at Slichester continued until that time. The process of abandonment in the form of the deliberate backfilling of wells with building material, denying water supply has been interpreted as either, a policy of deliberately discouraging the return of people against their will, or the systematic reclamation of land for cultivation through demolition of buildings and the infilling of residual hollows left by pits and wells following the departure of the inhabitants. Fulford and Clarke have estimated, based on the pattern of infilling of wells, a case can be made for between a half and two thirds of the level of the fourth century population surviving into the late sixth century-early seventh century. (52-70)

The website of the Silchester Insula IX "Town Life" project carries descriptions of the main features of the site, news on the progress of the excavation and finds made each year , as well as a list of MA dissertations and PhD theses on Silchester. (71)

Excavations in the Insulae west of the forum since 1997 suggest that this area was rebuilt in the reign of Nero, probably with the destruction of the palace complex associated with Cogidubnus, when some, or all, of his kingdom would have passed to the emperor. (72)

The first chapter of an edited volume on digital research into classical antiquity features Silchester as a case study. (73)

Downloadable paper given at a conference, which discusses the innovative use of new technologies in recording archaeological remains at Silcherter. (74)

The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England undertook air photographic interpretation and transcription of the town and environs in 1994. An area of some 340 hectares was surveyed and all probable Roman and late Prehistoric features plotted. The primary reason was to provide an accurate plan of the street system, including the extra mural areas, in addition to the inner and outer earthworks. The full details are presented within the report. (75)

This report describes the conservation of a waterlogged wooden writing tablet, found in a Roman well dating to circa AD 200, including a discussion on the fabrication of the piece and comparison with other writing tablets found in England. This example is rather later than the more commonly recorded writing tablets from the 1st and 2nd centuries. This object was in a highly degraded condition, and needed to be conserved. It is different in many ways, appearing to be roughly made with materials and tools to hand. (76)

The 'Insula IX Town Life' project is a research and training excavation (by Reading University) of one part of the large Roman town at Silchester. The purpose of the excavation is to trace the site's development from its origins before the Roman Conquest to its abandonment in the fifth century A.D. The website is designed to provide information on the current work, as well as the previous excavations. (77)

A brief history and description. (78)

An article describing the more recent excavations in Insula IX, particularly with reference to the earlier street patterns and periods of rebuilding following widespread clearance/destrction. (79)

The Iron Age oppidum and Roman town of Calleva Attrebatum was recorded from aerial photographs and lidar imagery during the Silchester Iron Age Environs Project (Reading University and Historic England). In addition to the Roman buildings and street plan, traces of earlier features, possibly roads, were seen as cropmarks appearing to underlie the Roman town. These took the form of curvilinear banks located in the areas of Insulas 2, 8, 15, 16, and 19. (80)
It was previously recorded as part of the Aggregate Landscape of Hampshire NMP project. (81-97)

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Source Number : 77
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : Silchester Insula IX. Copyright University of Reading. May 2010. <> [Accessed 19-JAN-2010]
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Source Number : 78
Source : Heritage Unlocked: London and the South East
Source details :
Page(s) : 76-79
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 79
Source : Current archaeology
Source details : 'Silchester: how it all began', by M Fulford and A Clarke, January 2011
Page(s) : Dec-19
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Vol(s) : 250
Source Number : 81
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SU6362/59 NMR 407/180-188, 190-198 30-JUL-1972
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Source Number : 9
Source : Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
Source details :
Page(s) : 603
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Vol(s) : 1748
Source Number : 82
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SU 6361/10 NMR 822/237 01-JUL-1975
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Source Number : 83
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR 6362/97 NMR 2150/1009 05-AUG-1983
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Source Number : 84
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SU 6362/57NMR 410/58-63 03-AUG-1972
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Source Number : 85
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SU6362/68 NMR 961/56-7 06-JUL-1976
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Source Number : 86
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR OS/86156 0162-3 02-JUL-1986
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Source Number : 87
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SU 6462/129 NMR 2150/1033 05-AUG-1983
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Source Number : 88
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR 6462/31 NMR 129/189 18-JUL-1969
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Source Number : 89
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : CUCAP KTU194-5 23-JUN-1970
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Source Number : 90
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : CUCAP BTH92 26-JUN-1975
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Source Number : 91
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : CUCAP ADN66 05-JUL-1961
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Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 1819: "Ancient Wiltshire: The Roman Era" (publisher unknown).
Page(s) : 51FF
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Vol(s) : 2
Source Number : 92
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : CUCAP VG5 17-JUN-1957
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Source Number : 93
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR SU6262 Environment Agency D0166085 1m NOV-DEC-2013 16D DTM
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Source Number : 94
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR SU6262 Environment Agency D0141294 1m 25-MAR-2011 16D DTM
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Source Number : 95
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR SU6462 Environment Agency D0141298 1m 25-MAR-2011 16D DTM
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Source Number : 96
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR SU6260 Environment Agency D0141293 1m 25-MAR-2011 16D DTM
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Source Number : 97
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR SU6462 Environment Agency D0166087 1m NOV-DEC-2013 16D DTM
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Source : SU 66 SW 4 (Calleva Atrebatum) (1957)
Source details :
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Late Iron Age
Display Date : Late Iron Age
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -100
Monument Type : Enclosed Oppidum, Mint
Evidence : Earthwork, Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Occupied throughout Roman period
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Town Defences, Town, Civitas Capital
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Guardianship Number
External Cross Reference Number : 562
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : HA 9
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 217
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 24336
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SU 66 SW 4
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 241208
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 241219
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1604406
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 241108
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241175
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241196
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241210
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241212
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241215
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241216
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241217
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241208
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241219
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241213
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241221
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241202
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241183
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241211
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241218
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241220
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1395643
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1395645
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1395646
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1395647
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241214
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241222
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241188
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241191
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241201
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241207
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 241209
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1740-01-01
End Date : 1749-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1864-01-01
End Date : 1874-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1874-01-01
End Date : 1884-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1890-01-01
End Date : 1909-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE BEECHES,SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1911-01-01
End Date : 1911-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RYE HOUSE MEADOW, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1938-01-01
End Date : 1939-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1954-01-01
End Date : 1958-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1961-01-01
End Date : 1961-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1967-01-01
End Date : 1968-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SOUTH GATE,SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1975-01-01
End Date : 1975-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1977-01-01
End Date : 1977-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1979-01-01
End Date : 1979-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, AMPHITHEATRE, SILCHESTER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1979-01-01
End Date : 1985-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER/CALLEVA ATREBATUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1980-01-01
End Date : 1986-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RYE FARM BUNGALOW
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1988-01-01
End Date : 1988-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: SILCHESTER ROMAN TOWN PROJECT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1995-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER (VISITORS CAR PARK)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1991-01-01
End Date : 1992-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CHITTY FARM, MORTIMER WEST END
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER (INSULA IX)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 2006-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER (INSULA IX)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CORNWALL ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT: THE AGGREGATE LANDSCAPE OF HAMPSHIRE NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2006-03-01
End Date : 2008-03-01
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER ROMAN TOWN
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2009-01-01
End Date : 2009-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ST. MARY'S LEE, CHURCH LANE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2012-01-01
End Date : 2012-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ST. MARY'S LEE, CHURCH LANE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2013-01-01
End Date : 2013-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER ENVIRONS: WOOD FARM DYKE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2015-01-01
End Date : 2016-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER ENVIRONS: LITTLE LONDON
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2015-01-01
End Date : 2016-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SILCHESTER IRON AGE ENVIRONS PROJECT: NMP COMPONENT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2015-10-01
End Date : 2016-09-01