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Archaeological survey detects Roman villas and iron age farmsteads in Shropshire
Culture Science

Archaeological survey detects Roman villas and iron age farmsteads in Shropshire

An archaeological survey of more than 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) in Shropshire has identified a wealth of previously unknown features, including two grand Roman villas and multiple earlier iron age farmsteads.

The geophysical survey, the largest ever conducted by the National Trust, used ground-scanning technology to map undetected features close to the site of the Roman city of Wroxeter, just south of modern day Shrewsbury.

As well as the two buried villas, characterised on the scan by their highly distinctive shape, and eight prehistoric farms, archaeologists also found evidence of a Roman cemetery, Roman road network and new features associated with a previously identified Anglo Saxon great hall.

The National Trust, which owns the land, said the “one of a kind” survey was carried out to help it plan for future nature conservation and tree-planting schemes across the landscape, as part of its ambitious targets to address climate change.

Viriconium Cornoviorum, or Wroxeter, was the fourth most important city in Roman Britain and experts fully expected the grounds of its stately home, Attingham Park, near to the city’s ruins to be archaeologically significant, said Janine Young, an archaeologist with the trust. Crop marks on the landscape in dry summers had also hinted at buried sites.

Greyscale geophysics map with bView image in fullscreen

However, the extent of the discoveries was a surprise, she said. “It’s a very rich area archaeologically speaking. I look after other National Trust properties as well, and there is no way you would get such a level of occupation [elsewhere]. The landscape had quite dense occupation throughout history, and it is that continuous occupation that is very exciting.”

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Only six other Roman villas – the equivalent of a large country estate – are known in Shropshire, making the two new sites particularly significant, said Young. Though there are no immediate plans to excavate, she said it was “entirely possible” that the features could include elaborate mosaic floors and the remains of underfloor heating systems.

Young said: “Villa sites are usually decorated with mosaic floors, and they were often heated by hypocausts. These are the types of things that survive beneath the soil because they’re at the bottom layer, if you like. So it’s entirely possible that there would be mosaic floors if they survive beneath the ploughsoil, which this geophysical survey suggests they do.”

However, she identified the iron age farmstead enclosures, which had shown up particularly clearly in the ground scan, as her personal favourite discovery. “We picked up a lovely little circular feature which represents a roundhouse, which will have been lived in by an iron age family. You are homing right into the personal level, where we can see the outline of the house that would have been occupied.”

The trust says a fuller understanding of the landscape will help it “[plan] land use changes with its tenants to help capture carbon, build climate resilience and support nature restoration”.

Young said: “We can protect the archaeology, and also learn from the way the land was used in the past, in order to come up with the best possible use in the future.”

Source: theguardian.com