Showcasing the secrets of Caistor Roman Town

24 Jun 2009 14:01:00.000

PA 173/09

In December 2007 a team of experts, led by The University of Nottingham, unveiled an extraordinary set of high-resolution images that gave an insight into the plan of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk.


The new research demonstrated that Caistor is a site of international importance — and tomorrow there will be an event to showcase the work and to clarify some of the mysteries of this buried roman town and highlight the impact of the research in developing Caistor as a cultural resource for Norfolk.


The high-resolution geophysical survey used a Caesium Vapour magnetometer to map buried remains across the entire walled area of the Roman town. It produced the clearest plan of the town yet seen confirming the street plan, the town’s water supply system, and the series of public buildings including the baths, temples and forum, know from earlier excavations.

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The survey also showed that earlier interpretations of the town as a densely occupied urban area — given by reconstruction paintings — may be totally wrong. Buildings were clustered along the main streets of the town, but other areas within the street grid seem to have been empty and were perhaps used for grazing or cultivation.

The research at Caistor is being directed by Dr Will Bowden, an Associate Professor of Roman Archaeology at The University of Nottingham. He worked with Dr David Bescoby and Dr Neil Chroston of the University of East Anglia on the survey which was sponsored by the British Academy with subsequent phases sponsored by a major private donation.
The site was discovered by the crew of an RAF aircraft. They took photographs over the site which now lies in open fields to the south of Norwich. The exceptionally dry summer meant that details of the Roman town were clearly revealed as parched lines in the barley. The pictures appeared on the front page of The Times on March 4 1929 and caused a sensation.

The new investigations, by Dr Bowden and his team, have shown that rather than simply being a provincial Roman town, Caistor may represent the development of a major settlement from the Iron Age until the 9th century AD. Crucially, however, the site was ultimately superseded by medieval Norwich and reverted to green fields.
This is quite unlike other Roman towns that have the same long occupation sequence which now lie buried beneath the modern towns of Britain and Europe.
This fortunate change of settlement location means that these same green fields at Caistor are a unique time-capsule that could give us vital clues to the complex processes through which our towns and cities developed.

One of the most exciting new discoveries from the survey is what looks like a Roman theatre. Clear traces of a large semi-circular building have been found next to the town's temples — the typical location for a theatre in Roman Britain.
Caistor lies in the territory of the Iceni, the tribe of Boudica who famously rebelled against Roman rule in AD 60/61. The survey revealed numerous circular features that apparently predate the Roman town.
These are probably of prehistoric date, and suggest that Caistor was the site of a large settlement before the Roman town was built

Now the burning questions are: was Caistor built on the site of an Iceni stronghold as retribution after Boudica's rebellion, or was it built to favour a faction of the Iceni who had not taken part in the revolt?
Life at Roman Caistor was thought to have ended in the 5th century AD, when Britain was abandoned by the emperor of the struggling Western Roman Empire. However, the new survey clearly shows a large ditched enclosure that cuts the surface of the Roman Street in the north-west corner of the site. Possible structures are visible within this enclosure.
The Knowledge Exchange Showcase is being held at The University of Nottingham between 10.30am and 3.15pm on Thursday June 25 2009.

Led by Dr Will Bowden the workshop will hear from:

•    Roger Bellinger from the Norfolk Archaeological Trust — Caistor and the Norfolk Archaeological Trust
•    Mike Bentley from South Norfolk Council — Caistor as a cultural resource
•    Gary Priestnall from The University of Nottingham — 3D Modeling and mobile computing in the landscape
•    Tim Pestell from Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service — Collections, collecting and research at Norwich Castle
•    Sarah Horlock of Norfolk Landscape Archaeology — Caistor and the National Mapping Programme
•    Edward Faber from The University of Nottingham — The University of Nottingham’s Microanalysis Research Facility

If you would like to book a place for this event please email
More details of the site are available at:


Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr William Bowden on +44 (0)115 951 4830,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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