The Silchester Project: Roman Town Insula IX The Development of an Urban Property c. AD 40-50 - c. AD 250

Amanda Clarke, Michael Fulford, Michael Rains, 2007

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Prof Michael Fulford
Professor of Archaeology
School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science
University of Reading
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Amanda Clarke, Michael Fulford, Michael Rains (2007) The Silchester Project: Roman Town Insula IX The Development of an Urban Property c. AD 40-50 - c. AD 250 [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] https://doi.org/10.5284/1000259

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Overview

Introduction to the 'House 1' site and sequence

Reconstruction drawings of House 1

The masonry remains of the House 1 described by Fox (1895) proved, on excavation, to comprise the remains of two successive periods of building, the earlier of which consisted of the remains of two detached houses (our Period 3 Masonry Buildings 1 and 2). The later comprised the remains of one, large, possibly aisled town-house (our Period 4 Masonry Building 3). In addition, and beneath the remains of the Early Roman masonry buildings, were the remains of a large, timber-framed house (our Period 2 Timber Building 2) and a circular building (Period 2 Timber Building 3). To the north-east, the ground plan extended beyond the limits of the Period 4 Masonry Building 3. Immediately adjacent to it, and extending its line, was a further, detached timber building (Period 2 Timber Building 1), which occupied the north-east angle of the insula. Although the latter falls outside the footprint of Period 4, Masonry Building 3, it has been included here as it appears to be intimately connected with the life of the Period 2, Timber Building 2 .

With the exception of our earliest period 1, all buildings are later than the imposition of the orthogonal street grid laid out on the cardinal points. The unusual north-east/south-west orientation established for the Period 2 buildings was maintained through to the demolition of the Period 4 House 3 in the mid-third century AD. This report focuses only on the sequence of buildings which occupied the same, House 1 site from c. AD70-80 within the excavation area. The wider, period-by-period developments of the archaeology within the excavation area will be reported in subsequent publications. The excavation is still continuing and this will shed further light on Period 1 and the earliest phases of the Period 2 Timber Buildings.

Methodology

The approach to the publication of excavation reports, particularly since the great increase in information arising from the closer observation and recording of archaeological stratigraphy and from the reporting of associated material culture and biological data has been to provide a synthesis and interpretation of the excavated sequence and the associated finds evidence. Initially it was possible to provide supplementary information on stratigraphy and finds through microfiche. Latterly electronically generated databases with detailed information about excavation and finds have been made available on-line, very largely through the services of ADS, to complement the printed report. Nevertheless for most large projects, even in the era of microfiche, the possibility of testing interpretations and conclusions has rested on the re-examination of the original site and finds archive wherever they were archived.

From the outset of the insula ix project the plan, context record and basic finds data were entered onto a database (IADB). The excavation photography soon followed. As research on the finds developed, for example on coins and other 'small finds', that expert information was also entered. The realisation that the insula ix project was going to take many seasons of fieldwork and years of post-excavation analysis prompted a policy to, first, publish in appropriate form while the fieldwork continued and, second, to link text-rich, printed articles and reports of the excavation with associated web-sites where the primary evidence could be scrutinised on-line. Our first pilot was in the reporting of the Victorian excavation of insula ix in 1893-4. While the printed article contained a summary of the field and finds' evidence with limited photo reproduction, the web-site allowed the reader to search through to the records of each relevant context and plan record, supported by the full archive of digitised colour photography. Information on the Victorian finds was complemented with a much richer array of images than was possible in the journal article. There was over a year's interval between the electronic and the printed publication.

Much more substantial was the second phase of reporting on the excavation. This involved a large body of stratigraphic and finds' information concerning the late Roman occupation of the insula in the period from AD250/300 to the abandonment in the sixth-seventh century. In addition to the context and plan record there was a wide range of artefacts and biological data with some categories containing thousands of items of information. The Late Roman web-site was launched in the spring of 2005, while the complementary printed volume was published in late 2006. The web-site gives access to all the raw data associated with the stratigraphic and finds' records, while the printed volume concentrates on the text-rich synthesis, analysis and discussion of results. However, it was decided at the outset that both publications would need to stand in their own right. Without some interpretive structure the user of the web-site would find it hard to navigate through the underlying archive; equally, the user of the printed report would require a fairly detailed narrative of the excavation and tabulated data to support specialist reports in order to understand the significance of the stratigraphic and structural sequence and their associated finds. The result is that there is some overlap in content between the two. In particular the interpretation and synthesis of the stratigraphy on the web-site which leads the reader into the related archive is reproduced in the printed report. In this article, however, all duplication is avoided. The description of the sequence of buildings which occupy the House 1' plot tries to avoid detailed description which can be pursued through the linked archive and to focus on interpretation.