A Little Ancient History

BBC4 is currently running a short series of archaeology programmes called Digging for Britain. Fronted by Alice Roberts, it provides updates on a range of ongoing investigations around the country. I’ve just caught up with the West Country episode, and it contains something that may be of interest to fantasy writers.

The dig in question is at Ipplepen, a small village near Newton Abbot in Devon. It has been interesting for some time because it uncovered the remains of a Roman road. Previously it had been thought that Roman settlement ended at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), which was a large town and home to Legio Secunda Augusta, one of the four legions making up the British garrison. Discovering that a road had been built south-west from that town was a big surprise. No one yet knows where it goes, though my guess is that it connected to a port somewhere in Torbay.

There is definitely a large settlement at Ipplepen, and fragments of roof tile have been found suggesting Roman-style buildings as well as the pottery, jewelry and other evidence of Roman culture. However, the thing that it really exciting the archaeologists is the cemetery.

The Romans didn’t put cemeteries inside towns. Instead they buried people outside, often along the side of roads. Last year a number of graves were excavated, and when Danielle Wootton of Exeter University turned up to talk about the dig on Digging for Britain she had just received the first radio carbon dating results. One of the graves was dated at between 655 and 765 CE. For reference, the official end date of the Roman occupation of Britain is generally accepted to be 410 CE. So what we have here is a Romano-British settlement that was still flourishing some 250 to 350 years after the legions departed.

Let me repeat that. South-West of England, large Romano-British settlement, still flourishing 250-350 years after the legions departed. Obviously there is much archaeology yet to be done, and no one is officially speculating about anything. Fortunately for us, fiction is not required to abide by academic rules.

And yes, the dates for that burial do overlap with the life of Hild of Whitby.

This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Little Ancient History

  1. Mind you, it’s not all that surprising; in Calleva, Romanised life survived for a similar length of time after the “fall”, even while other towns – such as Viroconium (which I always mistype as Viriconium, damn you M. John Harrison) – had started to succumb already to (some as yet unknown) deurbanising pressure before the Romans even left (the 3rd century saw many towns decline, and only some recover, but many of those that did survived for a long time after the occupation)

    Sorry, the late occupation of Calleva and Viroconium was my dissertation topic, and it’s fascinating stuff

Comments are closed.