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Roman temple unearthed in Silchester

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Phil Cannings

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Phil Cannings

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Silchester Temple site

A Roman temple has been uncovered in Silchester as the University of Reading’s archaeologists returned for the 2017 summer season. 

The 50 archaeologists and finds specialists are spread over two archaeological sites – the Little London Tile Kiln site and the Silchester Temple site.

Two weeks into the five-week dig season, both sites are proving promising.

The temple site is situated to the east of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, near St Mary the Virgin Church.

Previous geophysical surveys have shown the outline, beneath the ground, of three temples – two situated under the churchyard and the other half under a farmyard and half under a paddock.This third temple has been the focus of the archaeologists this season.

The site director, Professor Mike Fulford, said: “It could be a memorial to a local dignitary, but unfortunately there are lots of things we don’t know about at the moment.”

The temple is formed of two squares, one inside the other, with the central square forming the sanctuary and the outer forming an ambulatory – a covered walkway.

These are dated to the Romano-Celtic period in the second half of the first century (circa 50-110 AD). 

No associated artefacts have been discovered to indicate which god the temple was dedicated to, although in the centre of the shrine a large pit filled with packed flint was found, which may originally have held a divine statue.

The site is complicated to excavate as it has been disturbed by sewage pipes, electricity cables and the constant use of the droveway that goes across the site.

This means different time periods are represented at the same depth and alongside each other.

A complete horse burial is a case in point, as, without carbon dating it, the archaeologists don’t know if it is of Roman date or later.

Other finds have included a Roman ring, a tile imprinted with a dog paw and another with a deer hoof.  

The Kiln site, a couple of miles away, has uncovered Roman kilns and a large number of bricks and decorated tiles.

It is thought this kiln site was in use under the Emperor Nero and tiles, unique to Silchester, bearing a circular stamp with his name, have been discovered in the town since 1903.

At least one of these tiles has been discovered this season.  

It is thought Nero was commissioning large-scale building works in Silchester, perhaps in gratitude for the Calleva locals’ help against the Boudiccan rebellion in 60/61 AD. 

Excavations started at the Roman town of Silchester in 1974, with annual excavations taking place since 1997 under the direction of Prof Fulford. He said: “I thought I would hang up my trowel back in 2014, but people wrote some more cheques to fund the project, so we are still here.”

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