Roman civilisation travelled further than history books tell us

Published: 9 years ago Author:

Chance Metal-detecting coin finds led to the discovery of a large Roman Settlement in Devon

Denarius Serratus from Devon

Last year, two metal detectorists started to discover Roman coins in a series of fields about 40 miles west of Exeter, first one, then ten...until they had nearly a hundred.

This would not be unusual in other parts of Britain but it has always been thought that Roman influence never made it this far into Devon as there is little evidence of Romans in the South West Peninsula of Britain.

They then called Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Danielle Wootton at the University of Exeter to investigate further. After carrying out geophysical survey last summer, she was astonished to find evidence of a huge landscape including roundhouses, quarry pits and track ways covering at least thirteen fields, the first of its kind for the county.

Danielle being filmed by Gemma HagenDanielle received funding from the British Museum, the Roman Research Trust and Devon County Council in June to carry out a trial excavation on the site, and has already uncovered evidence of extensive trade with Europe, a road possibly linking to the major settlement at Exeter, and some intriguing structures, as well as many more coins.

Danielle said:

This was a really exciting discovery, but we are just at the beginning really, there's so much to do and so much that we still don't know about this site. I'm hoping that we can turn this into a community excavation for everyone to be involved in, including the metal detectorists. I've been lucky enough to get funding from Earthwatch next year; it will be exciting research, but we still need more funding to run the excavation.

Most exciting of all, they have stumbled across two burials that seem to be located along the side of the settlement's main road. Its early days, but this could be the first signs of a Roman cemetery and the first glimpse of the people that lived in this community.

Sam Moorhead, National Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins for the PAS at the British Museum, believes that this is one of the most significant Roman discoveries in the country for many decades; it is the beginning of a process that promises to transform our understanding of the Roman invasion and occupation of Devon. He believes we may even find more settlements in this area in the next few years.

The excavation of this unique site will feature in the forthcoming BBC2 series Digging For Britain.

Contact: Sam Moorhead/ Danielle Wootton +44(0) 20 7323 8611


There are 5 comments on this story.

  • Blue Porcupine wrote @ 11:14:50 on the 4th August 2011. "40 miles west of Exeter" Wow. That's practically on the Cornish border, surely?
  • Londinium wrote @ 16:20:26 on the 4th August 2011. Bit before the Cornish border but yeah close enough to completely rewrite the history of Roman Dumnonia. There's all sorts of bits and bobs of Roman evidence across Devon, such as at Teignbridge, in central Devon,there's rumours of a Roman road under the main road from Torquay to Paignton aswell (based upon contemporary newspaper reports in the 19th century when it was discovered - although has never been substantiated so might just be a case of the Victorian love of allocating everything to antiquity). I always personally thought the idea of the South West past Exeter being some kind of untouched Celtic idyll which the Romans just ignored for the best part of 400 years a strange theory and now evidence is finally emerging to challenge it.
  • Steve wrote @ 09:32:22 on the 20th August 2011. Well done - a great story. The two metal detectorists acted responsibly and notified their local FLO - without their finds this major site would remain unknown. Our sum knowledge has now been increased - a great success for all concerned.
  • jillihare wrote @ 10:29:36 on the 13th September 2011. Well I've always been under the impression that the Romans ran tin mines in Devon and Cornwall. Perhaps only the locals knew this.
  • Raedwald wrote @ 09:41:47 on the 6th October 2011. What a great find, another plus for metal detecting!!!

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