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Durham University

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Understanding the birth of a capital: Bagendon ‘oppidum’ and the Late Iron Age-Roman transition

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.

Background

When did urbanism first appear in Britain? What form did the pre-Roman centres of Britain take: towns, markets, ritual foci or royal estates? Why and how did they become Roman urban centres? To understand the relationship between colonial contact and change in indigenous Iron Age societies, archaeologists need to understand how the massive ditched complexes (oppida), which emerged in southern Britain at the end of the Iron Age, worked and how they related to existing landscapes. Despite calls for a better understanding of Late Iron Age oppida (e.g. Haselgrove et al. 2001), study continues to focus on a small number of sites. This project explores these issues through focusing on one of the least well-understood of the claimed ‘territorial oppida’ in Britain.

Project Aims

This project, led by Dr Tom Moore, seeks to clarify the role of one of these monuments, Bagendon ‘oppidum’, Gloucestershire. During the early 1980s excavations at Bagendon in conjunction with work at Ditches ‘hillfort’, revealed evidence of a mid-first century AD industrial area and coin mint adjacent to earlier 1950s excavations (Clifford 1961). With the 1980s investigations of the Late Iron Age enclosure and early Roman villa at Ditches now published (Trow, James and Moore 2009), this project is analysing the unpublished 1980s Bagendon excavations and undertaking new fieldwork within the dyke complex. This new project has included a major geophysical survey of the entire complex and additional surveys of Iron Age and Roman sites in the region. New excavations have also placed previous investigations in context. Combined, this is leading to a major reassessment of the Bagendon complex and Late Iron Age-Roman transition in the southern Cotswolds as a whole, building on recent surveys of the Iron Age in the area (Moore 2006; 2007). Indications suggest that Bagendon should be understood not as an isolated ‘site’ but as part of an integrated landscape and might be best placed amongst a broader range of polyfocal complexes which existed at the end of the Iron Age (Moore 2012; Moore 2017).

Results to date

Geophysical surveys

High-resolution gradiometer survey of the entire Bagendon oppidum landscape has been conducted. This have revealed numerous new elements to the complex, including previously unrecognised evidence for significant dense occupation in the Bagendon valley, areas of occupation, including earlier occupation beneath Cutham dyke and, identification of two new ‘banjo’ styles enclosures. The majority of the the Bagendon complex has now been surveyed (c.200 ha). This work is indicating that the oppidum had a much more complex history than previously considered.

Excavations 2012-17

The discovery of two previously unknown ‘banjo’ style enclosures in the complex has the potential to provide information on the chronological development and role of the broader Bagendon complex. These enclosures are without close parallels amongst other banjo enclosures and excavations aim to provide information on the chronology and role of these unusual sites. Excavations at bothe of these enclosures between 2012 and 2014 has indicated they were in use in the Middle-Late Iron Age. Significant ceramic and bone assemblages, alongside environmental samples, are currently being examined. Further excavations have examined a newly discovered Roman building close to the area of the Late Iron Age occupation and sampled one of the oppidum ramparts. Meanwhile, augering by Dr Mike Allen (AEA) across the landscape has aimed to give us a better understanding of the changing nature of the environment. Combined this work is leading to a major reappraisal of this monument.

Funding

The different elements of the Bagendon project have been supported by a range of organisations, to which we are most grateful: post-excavations of the 1980s material by the Roman Research Trust (2012; 2015) and Society of Antiquaries of London (2012); geophysical surveys have been supported by the Roman Research Trust (2008), Royal Archaeological Institute (Bunnel Lewis Award) (2009, 2010), Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (Irene Bridgeman grant) (2009/2013) and British Academy (2012-13) and Reading University (2015-16). Excavations in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were supported by funding from the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. Excavations in 2012 and 2013 were also Howard Community College, USA. Excavations in 2015 were funded by Durham University and the Roman Research Trust.

Aerial photograph of excavations in 2015 (taken by Mark Woolston-Houshold)

Published Results

Authored book

  • Trow, S., James, S. & Moore, T. (2009). Becoming Roman, Being Gallic, Staying British. Research and excavations at Ditches 'hillfort' and villa 1984-2006. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Moore, T. (2006). Iron Age societies in the Severn-Cotswolds: developing narratives of social and landscape change. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Journal Article

  • Moore, T. (2012). Beyond the Oppida: Polyfocal Complexes and Late Iron Age Societies in Southern Britain. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 31(4): 391-417.

Chapter in book

  • Moore, T. (2014). The birth of a capital? Bagendon 'Oppidum' and the impact of Rome on the British countryside. In The Impact of Rome on the British Countryside: a conference organised by the RAI, Chester, 11-13 October 2013. Breeze, David J. London: The Royal Archaeological Institute. 26-30.
  • Moore, T. (2007). Life on the edge? Exchange, community and identity in the later Iron Age of the Severn-Cotswolds. In The Later Iron Age in Britain and Beyond. Haselgrove, C. & Moore, T. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 41-61.

Staff

From the Department of Archaeology

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