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24 August 2012
The enduring story of Silchester

Since the 13th Century the history of Silchester (Hampshire, England) has captured the imagination of generations and another chapter in its fascinating story has now been written. It has long been known as a Roman town and long term excavations have been carried out on the site since the 19th Century. A wealth of buildings and artefacts have been uncovered, including a bronze eagle, thought to be a regimental standard, which inspired Rosemary Sutcliffe to write the well known novel 'The Eagle of the Ninth'. But as more and more excavations were carried out an underlying British town emerged, predating the Roman invasion and occupation.
     A team of archaeologists and volunteers led by Dr Amanda Clarke and Professor Michael Fulford, of the archaeology department of Reading University, have been conducting summer excavations for 15 years, with some amazing results. Plant seeds have recently been found, of sufficient quantity and quality to allow plants to be cultivated and grown. The seeds were a mixture of herbs which have also been found across many Roman sites. Not so unusual you might think, but these seeds were found in a layer of excavation dating from almost 100 years before the Roman invasion. So how did they get there?
     The current theory put forward by the team is that the area had been settled by a Gaulish leader known as Commius, who had fled to Britain from Gaul after an unsuccessful rebellion against the Romans. He brought his lifestyle with him, including not only herbs but also olives, wine and domestic pets. Unfortunately his reign was short lived and within one generation the Romans had arrived and superimposed their complex and advanced stamp over the area. However, shortly after the Roman empire started to fall apart the town was abandoned and began to decay, but not before leaving behind a vast wealth of archaeology and history, most of which still remains to be discovered.

Edited from The Guardian (31 July 2012)

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