[Press and Publications] Britain's Earliest Roman Tree-Ring Date

January 2001 No 9


University of Leicester Archaeologists have made a discovery that indicates for the first time how and when the Roman army brought the Midlands under military control.

Led by Dr Eberhard Sauer, a team from the University's School of Archaeological Studies has been excavating a Roman fortress near Oxford. The fortress had only been discovered by Simon Crutchley (English Heritage) and Eberhard Sauer three years ago and Patrick Erwin’s geophysical survey led us to the gate. With the kind permission of the landowners, Mr and Mrs Miller, and English Heritage, the archaeologists were able to begin excavations at the site during the summers of 1999 and 2000.

Dr Sauer explained: "In 2000 we explored parts of the front gate. Typically for the time, it was a large timber gate with a forecourt where missiles could be discharged from three sides against enemies. Thanks to the high water table the bottom of the gate posts was still preserved. Under difficult conditions, constantly scooping and pumping out water, the dedicated team members were able to recover them intact.

"To our delight the bark was preserved. We knew that we would probably obtain a precise felling date. Tree rings vary in width from year to year, depending on temperature and the amount of rainfall. If there is a longer sequence (normally 50 rings or more) the precise felling date can be determined by comparing them with other timbers."

Excitement grew on 19 January when Ian Tyers, an expert on tree-ring dating at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology was able to date two of the three posts to between October AD 44 and March AD 45. It is believed that these are the earliest Roman timbers in Britain to be dated, and the felling dates almost certainly indicate the date the fortress was built. Knowledge of the Roman army's customs further narrow the date to the autumn of AD44.

Dr Sauer explained the importance of the find. "Now we know that already in the second year of the war Roman control over the Midlands was firm enough for the army to build a permanent base in Oxfordshire. Excavation is scheduled to continue until 2003 and well-preserved waterlogged organic remains promise to yield further unique insights into one of the most decisive turning points in British history."

This fieldwork has been funded by the Roman Research Trust, the British Academy, The Haverfield Bequest, the Royal Archaeological Institute, the Roman Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Note to editors: An information sheet by Dr Sauer giving more details about the excavation is available from the University of Leicester Press Office. Dr Eberhard Sauer, Lecturer at the University of Leicester School of Archaeological Studies, can be contacted on Tel. 0116-2522640; e-mail: ews1@le.ac.uk

Photo Opportunity: There will be a photo opportunity on Thursday 1 February at 2 pm in the Archaeology Department Bone Laboratory, 1st floor of the Attenborough Building (next to the foyer), University of Leicester Campus.

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Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: 08 February 2001 16:01
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