Roman Wickham

Wickham Geophysics Project – Week #1 Progress Report

ThThe BAS Study Group’s Roman Berkshire project is in the process of collating known Romano-British evidence across the Berkshire Region from the Late Iron Age until the end of the Late Roman period. This work has highlighted that the Romano-British settlement at Wickham warranted further investigation, particularly within fields where a wide spread of Roman era coins have been found close to Ermin Street (Margary 41 – Silchester to Cirencester) and the Roman road to Bath (Margary 53 – Wickham to Bath) are projected to intersect. The aims of the Fieldwork Near Wickham Project was to identify and date the Roman coins found by metal detectorists, understand the archaeology in the area where coins were found and to confirm the route taken by the Roman road from Wickham to Bath.

Fieldwork Near Wickham started in Area #1 where a wide scatter of coins had been found and through which the Roman road to Bath was projected to pass. The magnetometer survey offered the most rapid ground coverage by recording subtle changes in the local magnetic field continuously across the site and allows large areas to be covered in a relatively short time. Data from Area #1 revealed a number of anomalies, which were then investigated further with an earth resistance survey, which suggested that the anomalies previously identified were shown to be the remains of ditches most likely associated with recent agricultural activity.

Fig 1: Magnetometer survey in progress. 
Fig 2. The magnetometry survey results (left) and earth resistance survey results for selected grids (right) for Area #1.

Focus then  moved to Area #2 where a wide scatter of coins had also been found, and again laid out a grid of 20m x 20m squares, and the survey area of 1.1 hectares took only 4 hours to complete – possibly a BAS record! Whilst Area #2 did reveal some new anomalies, comparison with historical satellite images suggested that they are not archaeological in nature.

Fig 3. The magnetometry survey results for Area #2

The next to be surveyed were Area #3 and Area #4, some 300m to the east of Area #1, and close to the projected route of the Roman road to Bath and where Roman era coins had been found.  This time less experienced members of the group were given the opportunity to put their new surveying skills into practice under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. 

Fig 4. Training on setting up the magnetometer
Fig 5. Marking out the 20m x 20m grids

Again, magnetometry for both areas revealed more anomalies which needed to be repeated with an earth resistance survey, which confirmed that there was no evidence of the Roman road along its projected route, or of a significant settlement.

Fig 6. Geophysics results for Area #3 and Area #4.

The final area to be surveyed was Area #5, a large platform surrounded on two sides by a steep escarpment with a substantial ditch and bank separating it from the adjacent property. 

Fig 7. Marking out grids for survey in Area #5.
Fig 8. Enjoying a well-earned tea break!
Fig 9. Geophysics results for Area #5

The landowner loaned his collection of coins to BAS for identification and dating to provide additional context to the Fieldwork Near Wickham project. Many of the coins were very badly corroded or worn, but it has been possible to identify around 30, mostly small denomination coins, dating to the Late Roman period.

Fieldwork Near Wickham then undertook a “woodland survey” to accurately record some visible anomalies within wooded area close to Area #3 and Area #4 where it was not possible to undertake geophysics over the terrain. The survey started with training on survey methods conducted, before splitting into smaller groups to follow assigned 10m wide tracts through the woodland following a compass bearing and counting steps. The survey identified a series of banks/ditches, water management features, and terraces where buildings (most likely Georgian/Victorian cottages – one with a well) had formerly stood. Once plotted onto the map these features will be compared to historical maps, and measurements taken will be used to assess the likely archaeology of this wooded area on the GIS map used to record the project’s findings.

The final element of Fieldwork Near Wickham was to survey topology across the area, which revealed that whilst the ground where the geophysics was carried out was largely well drained, the rest of the estate was water-logged nearly all year round due to its underlying geology despite lying on an escarpment along which Ermin Street is known to pass. Other features such as ditches, banks and lynchets were also noted and marked onto the map so that they could assessed in more detail later in the project. All of the features identified were accurately positioned with GPS and measured so that all recorded data and images could be plotted on the GIS map.

Although revealing a paucity of new archaeology, the absence of any trace of the Roman road from Wickham to Bath (Margary 53) along its projected route suggest that it lies elsewhere, and will need to be investigated further. The absence of any evidence of settlement in the area surveyed suggest that the wide distribution of coins found in the fields may have originated from domestic rubbish generated by a nearby settlement being spread across neighbouring fields. 

Overall, the Fieldwork Near Wickham Project has been a huge success, with its scope being completed in a timely manner, and the whole team having the opportunity to gain hands on experience of using magnetometry and earth resistance geophysics survey equipment, practice the use of geophysical survey methods and contribute to the interpretation of the results. Experience was also gained in woodland survey and topological survey techniques. The methods used in this project also demonstrated a high level of productivity that can be achieved, which can be capitalised on by future BAS field projects. 

Thanks go to Andrew, Jo, Anne (Harrison), Anne (Helmore), Martin, Tim, Ewan and Keith for volunteering their time to work on this project, which all agreed was both enjoyable and informative.