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Roman coins find prompts dig to uncover Newton Abbot Roman settlement

By Herald Express  |  Posted: June 22, 2012

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EXCAVATIONS to uncover what is believed to be a major Roman town in the heart of South Devon are set to take place this summer.

The major archaeological dig is planned for rural Teignbridge, on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, after a chance find of ancient coins (pictured) by metal detector enthusiasts led to the discovery of the largest Roman settlement ever found in Devon.

It has been described as one of the most significant finds in generations, and could rewrite the history books on Roman occupation in Britain.

The month-long excavation work in August will be led by Danielle Wootton, the finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologist at the University of Exeter, and the university's Roman archaeology specialist Dr Ioana Oltean.

The dig will be funded by the university, Devon County Council and international environment charity Earthwatch.

The Herald Express has agreed not to reveal the exact location at the request of those leading the research until they are able to get on site.

There have been long-held suspicions that the Romans had established a presence in South Devon, and place names suggest the A381 between Totnes and Newton Abbot may have been a Roman road.

Archaeological investigations in 2007 discovered evidence of Romano-British activity with in the form of pottery, coins and other objects.

Ms Wootton was called on to investigate further. She received funding from the British Museum, the Roman Research Trust and Devon County Council's archaeology service to carry out a trial excavation on the site last June.

A geophysical survey also uncovered evidence of trade with Europe, a road possibly linking to the major settlement at Exeter, some 'intriguing' structures, burial sites and more coins on an area covering at least 13 fields.

It was always thought Roman influence never made it further than Exeter and there was little evidence of Romans in the South West Peninsula of Britain.

A Devon County Council spokesman said: "We believe this newly discovered Romano-British rural settlement has the potential to reveal significant evidence of this period of Devon's ancient history.

"Although there are a lot of known archaeological sites associated with the Roman conquest of Devon and subsequent civil rule, there have been relatively few extensive, modern excavations of military or civil sites outside Exeter.

"Devon County Council is keen to work with partners to see the site become a research, training and community archaeological excavation."

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  • andy063  |  June 27 2012, 7:29PM

    Bellchambers, for God's sake don't mention the 'out of towners' and 'second villa owners', you'll just set off the usual suspects!

  • Bellchambers  |  June 22 2012, 10:05AM

    At last some sense in the Archaeological Community!. From a Totnes perspective it makes things slip into place. In his report on excavations in the Norman Totnes Castle by Rigold (1954) a section of hypocaust tile was described from the spoil. A hypocaust was a form of central heating whereby hot air was passed beneath the rooms, and up the walls, of high status buildings - bath houses, villas etc. The tile can be seen in the Totnes Museum collection in the Bennett room. Masson Philips reported (1966) on his excavations at a Romano British period farmstead near Stoke Gabriel, whilst a number of Roman period coins have been found locally. What else will turn up now ???? J B Totnes

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  • DevonJanner  |  June 21 2012, 10:10PM

    Apparently there was a tribe of lost pygmies living on Paignton green ,but that`s a different story!

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  • ajp100688  |  June 21 2012, 4:31PM

    There were also reports in the Torquay newspapers in the 1840s when a new TQ-Paignton road was being built around Shedden Hill to bypass the historic road that the workmen found an ancient road under the ground that was so well built they had to use dynamite to blow it up. That certainly doesn't sound like a Medieval road related to the Abbey and people at the time suggested that it was Roman in origin but that should be taken with a pinch of salt because the Victorians loved to say everything was Classical. Unfortunately it's stuck under one of the busiest roads in Torquay now, so it's unlikely there will ever be any evacuations there to see whether it truly was a Roman road. I've always found it weird that archeologists so readily accepted there was no major settlement beyond Exeter in 400 years though, it just makes no sense, especially given the rich farmland in South Devon and Torbays potential for sheltering ships and importing/exporting goods as a rival to Topsham. Roman coins have been found at Kent's Cavern and on Berry Head aswell, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if more evidence pops up around the area of Roman occupation.

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  • Teign_Scouts  |  June 21 2012, 10:41AM

    Does this fit with the Roman Coins once found on Kingskerswell Downs where the bypass is now going to go through, remember reading this as a child in some old notes in Kingskerswell Library

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