Roman remains found by busy road

THE remains of a “waterfront” settlement dating from Roman times have been discovered in a Suffolk village.Archaeologists have found pottery, brooches, coins and other items on a site at Stoke Ash, beside a tributary of the River Dove and close to the A140 road, itself Roman in origin.

By David Green

THE remains of a “waterfront” settlement dating from Roman times have been discovered in a Suffolk village.

Archaeologists have found pottery, brooches, coins and other items on a site at Stoke Ash, beside a tributary of the River Dove and close to the A140 road, itself Roman in origin.

Information gleaned from the site and from the adjacent Thornham Estate is adding to the academic understanding of the Roman occupation of Britain.


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It also suggests the area has been a hive of human activity for many thousands of years, with evidence of early agriculture, industry and buildings.

However, the recent discovery of the waterfront settlement at Stoke Ash - sparked by the finding of a toggle made from a stone called jet – is considered the “icing on the cake”.

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“You never think in a lifetime you'll get anything like this – it is very exciting and fulfilling,” said Mike Hardy, an independent archaeologist who has been working in the Waveney Valley for the past 35 years.

Finds from the riverside and the whole area may be displayed in a museum which is being planned for the Thornham Estate.

Mr Hardy, 65, said the waterfront settlement had probably been made up of workshops and the homes of people who operated the river trade.

“Grain would have been exported and olive oil, fish oil, crushed fruit and wine imported during Roman times.

“It is also clear that a large number of animals were butchered here, including cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs,” he added.

Among the fragments of imported pottery found is one carrying the manufacturing name of Marcelli, a name that had also cropped up on pottery found at nearby Scole and at Hadrian's Wall.

“From the evidence we have found, including the coinage and artefacts, local people did very well out of the Romans,” Mr Hardy added.

His fellow archaeologist, John Fairclough, 62, former education officer at Ipswich Museum, said the area between Stoke Ash and Scole could have possibly been the estate of the Villa Faustinus, a grand house mentioned in documents from the Roman period.

“The Romans built the road between their garrisons at Colchester and Caister, near Norwich, and they also brought with them higher demand for trade,” he said.

Mr Hardy was first given the opportunity to carry out field walking and excavations on the Henniker family's 2,000-acre Thornham Estate ten years ago when Lady Henniker was a student on one of his University of East Anglia courses.

Since then he and his team of volunteers - from the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology's field group - have found evidence of human activity dating back to Neolithic times, including prehistoric pottery, sharpened flints, metal workings and fragments of weapons such as the axe and rapier.

Mr Hardy estimates that between 400 and 500 people were living in the area in the Neolithic period and the population had grown to about 1,000 in Roman times.

“Very little was known about the archaeology of this area. It was an absolute backwater for us and Lord Henniker opened it up.

“There was a major expansion of human activity during the Bronze Age and the Iceni had a vast settlement in the area – we have found some of their coins,” Mr Hardy said.

He and Mr Fairclough are the authors of a book called Thornham and the Waveney Valley: An Historic Landscape Explored, due to be published by Heritage Marketing and Publications of Great Dunham, Norfolk, in January, cost £19.95.

It is expected to be widely available in bookshops but can be ordered direct from Unit F, Hill Farm, Castle Acre Road, Great Dunham, Kings Lynn, PE32 2LP, adding £2.75 for postage and packing.

The book is dedicated to Lord Henniker, who died earlier this year.

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