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'Village' which may pre-date Romans discovered at Ipplepen

By Herald Express  |  Posted: August 23, 2012

HISTORY:   Ipplepen district and parish councillor Alisdair Dewhirst

HISTORY: Ipplepen district and parish councillor Alisdair Dewhirst

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging for evidence of Romans in South Devon have gone back even further in history.

The large-scale dig in Ipplepen has led to the discovery of a 'native village' which could have pre-dated the Romans.

The Herald Express withheld the site location until experts were able to get on site. It can now be revealed the dig is taking place at Ipplepen.

Excavation work has uncovered the remains of a round house, the type of houses lived in by native Britons during the Iron Age and unlike the Roman houses which were usually square.

The presence of Roman pottery indicates that the round house was still used after the Romans arrived.

The dig was triggered by a chance find of some coins by metal detectorist Philip Wills, of Torquay.

He discovered a coin called a Denarius, currency that was minted in Rome and was probably brought to Britain by the Romans when they invaded in 43 AD.

Then Mr Wills and fellow enthusiast Dennis Hewings, of Paignton, found more evidence of Romano-British activity.

Details were passed to Danielle Wootton, the Devon finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Geophysical surveys later uncovered evidence of an extensive settlement including roundhouses, quarry pits and track ways.

Funds were secured for the dig which is being led by archaeology specialists Dr Ioana Oltean and Dr Martin Pitts from the University of Exeter and Miss Wootton, Sam Moorhead, the national finds adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins for the Portable Antiquity Scheme at the British Museum and Bill Horner, county archaeologist for Devon County Council.

It is being funded by the University of Exeter, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Earthwatch, the British Museum and Devon County Council.

Dr Oltean said: "It is not a Roman town, but a native village which may have been in existence before the Roman period. However, it traded actively with the Romans, shown by the initial collection of coins found and the ornate pottery, usually found near large cities and military camps and not in villages where most people would have used basic wooden bowls.

"The uniqueness of this Romano-British settlement is shown in the level of coins and types of pottery found, indicating that an exchange in goods and money was happening in the area, on a much larger scale than known in other villages in Britain at this period of time."

Miss Wootton said: "Previously there was little evidence of any Roman influence beyond the Roman city of Exeter.

"What is interesting on the site is that, despite the presence of Roman pottery and coins, the inhabitants are still living in native roundhouses, as Britons had done for centuries before."

The dig is also providing the wider community and university students with an opportunity for fieldwork experience and training. Volunteers from Earthwatch have travelled from Australia, Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean to work on the settlement.

Miss Wootton praised Mr Wills and Mr Fewings for their meticulous work and paid tribute to co-operative landowners. She said: "This is a great example of metal detectorists and archaeologists working together.

"Dennis and Jim have thoroughly detected the area over the years and recorded every scrap of metal.

"The villagers and landowners have been very supportive of our project and the local history society has been actively involved."

An open day is being held today between 11am and 3.30pm.

Ipplepen Methodist Church, now the community hub, is the headquarters for the dig.

County, district and Ipplepen parish councillor Dennis Smith, who has lived in the village since 1969, said: "It's absolutely fantastic to know about the history of the village. It has really captured the imaginations of a lot of people."

Ipplepen district and parish councillor Alisdair Dewhirst added: "It's wonderful to think history is being rewritten right here in Ipplepen."

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