So there they were, poised to knock up a retail distribution centre outside Chippenham, when up pops a Roman barn. Turns out there’s a nationally important Romano-British rural settlement on the site, and Historic England (formerly English Heritage) has scheduled it accordingly – so the development has stopped.
This news nugget caught my eye in the latest edition of British Archaeology magazine, but it also made BBC local news, given the contest between developer and state over what should become of the site (not to mention local petitions).
What’s particularly interesting for Farming Unearthed is the discovery of an unexpectedly large barn, in a part of the country where Roman agrarian developments aren’t that well understood. British Archaeology reports: “Excavation of 12… postholes found second century AD pottery, suggesting that what might otherwise have been interpreted as a large medieval barn was in fact Roman.” As if that weren’t enough, Historic England itself has been excavating at another Romano-British farmstead in Wiltshire, of a rather different character, but nonetheless with “the corner of a large barn.” Are we on the verge of a scholarly overhaul of Wiltshire’s Roman farms?
Broadening the picture, this seems an appropriate moment to flag up a new (and growing) online resource courtesy of the Roman Rural Settlement project. It’s a mammoth collaborative effort from the University of Reading and Cotswold Archaeology, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Historic England. The project team has been busy harvesting vast swathes of excavation data, much of it previously unpublished, regarding rural settlements in Roman Britain. There’s an important agricultural strand led by Dr Martyn Allen, expert in zooarchaeology but also interested in things like corn-dryers (a hobby-horse of mine, you may recall). Anyway, the team is magnanimously uploading their data into a massive barn – I mean, database – on the Archaeological Data Service. Find it here, and have a browse. It’s a fantastic resource and a remarkable achievement.