Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Silchester Iron Age finds reveal secrets of pre-Roman Britain

A single olive stone unearthed at the ancient town of Silchester is among the extraordinary finds that are leading archaeologists to rewrite British history

By the gap in a hedge bordering the entrance off a muddy lane in Hampshire, the young diggers on one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Britain have made a herb garden: four small square plots. The sudden blast of sunshine after months of heavy rain has brought everything into bloom, and there's a heady scent of curry plant and dill, marigold and mint.
Many of the plant seeds are familiar from Roman sites across Britain, as the invaders brought the flavours and the medical remedies of the Mediterranean to their wind-blasted and sodden new territory, but there is something extraordinary about the seeds from the abandoned Iron Age and Roman town of Silchester.
The excavation run every summer by Dr Amanda Clarke and Professor Michael Fulford of the archaeology department at Reading University, using hundreds of volunteer students, amateurs and professionals, now in its 15th season, is rewriting British history.

The banal seeds are astonishing because many came from a level dating to a century before the Romans. More evidence is emerging every day, and it is clear that from around 50BC the Iron Age Atrebates tribe, whose name survived in the Latin Calleva Atrebatum, the wooded place of the Atrebates, enjoyed a lifestyle that would have been completely familiar to the Romans when they arrived in AD43.

Their diet would also be quite familiar to many in 21st-century Britain. The people ate shellfish – previously thought to have been eaten only in coastal settlements – as well as cows, sheep, pigs, domesticated birds such as chicken and geese as well as wild fowl, and wheat, apples, blackberries, cherries and plums. They ate off plates, again previously thought a finicky Roman introduction, and flavoured their food with poppy seed, coriander, dill, fennel, onion and celery. They had lashings of wine, imported not just in clay amphorae but in massive barrels, and olive oil.

Via http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/31/silchester-iron-age-roman-britain