Late Iron Age & Roman Research Agenda

LIA-Rom 01: How can we improve methodological approaches to the Late Iron Age and Roman periods?

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Informing this should be Fulford and Holbrook’s recent paper, ‘Relevant Beyond the Roman Period’ (2018) and its series of underpinning practice, methodology and data-category articles issued on-line. Arising from this is a need for methodological innovation. By no means is this restricted to Late Iron Age and Romano-British archaeology. Yet, it becomes particularly pressing for those periods, due to what is known to be the high density of their settlements throughout much of the eastern counties and, too, the scale of construction and excavation within the region. Given this, and the character of the periods’ settlements, there may soon well be a risk of information redundancy of some site-type categories. Accordingly, further methodological experimentation and scientific analyses will be required to tease out new facets of the sites’ data and to counteract what could soon verge into same-ness. Equally, there is pressing need for far greater statistical control of site artefact densities, so that depositional levels can be readily compared against a range of settlement types.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 02: How should we approach sub-regional variation in the Late Iron Age and Roman periods?

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While providing a set (and useable) settlement-type nomenclature, for our purposes the Reading University’s Roman Countryside studies do not offer an easy fix. Their study’s zones cross-cut and sub-divide the eastern counties’ political boundaries into three: The South, The East and The Central Belt. Consequently, the region’s results are not there presented as a unified analytical block (nor by county). The greatest problem with their analyses (based on Natural England’s ‘Natural Areas’) is that The East, rather than being confined to Norfolk and Suffolk – and what was arguably Iceni lands – extends west as a tongue into South Cambs., north Essex and the northeast quarter of Herts.. At a regional level, an abiding research concern must be to interrogate the validity of these sub-divisions. Indeed, this can even potentially lead us to question whether the eastern region, as a whole, is any longer a valid framework of study and if, instead, sub-regionalities should be a main thrust.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 03: How should we approach the study of the Late Iron Age and Roman periods?

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With the basic parameters of the periods’ main settlement-types and their sequence-chronologies now essentially established, the progression of knowledge can no longer be a matter of ‘one-liner’ directives but, rather, detailing and propensity in the light of larger scale patterning. Achieving this will require other approaches to excavation and co-ordinated programmes of research. Admittedly, not all parts of the regions have seen intense excavation coverage (e.g. Norfolk and parts of Suffolk). With basic settlement-sequence frameworks still to be established there, their research need will not be the same as for the development ‘hot-spots’.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 04: How can we map the distributions of key artefact and site types?

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There is a lack of authoritative regional/county site-by-period and key artefact-type distribution mapping (OASIS entries are not sufficiently detailed). This, for example, proved a significant hindrance in the course of Mucking’s post-excavation and, increasingly, it is impacting upon what dissertation topics students can now reasonably undertake. There clearly is a need to have readily available authoritative maps. In the case of the Late Iron Age and Roman periods, we are fortunate that the Reading University Project’s databases include such mapping. How are these to be updated and maintained? As things stand, one this must be undertaken by the regional Historic Environment Records. HERs and the Portable Antiquities Scheme do already hold the information required to produce such distribution plots, but a lack of consistency in terms of recording practice and indexing can hinder production of meaningful distributions for areas covering more than one HER dataset.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 05: How can we better understand the Late Iron Age to Roman transition?

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The Iron Age to Roman transition may be incorrectly dated and change to the Romanised form may take place earlier than we thought. It has been suggested that we should be looking at the absorption of indigenous populations and the creation of client kingdoms in centuries prior to the Roman conquest. This means that dating settlements is crucial in order to explain the characteristics of their morphology, artefact repertoire and longevity.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 06: How can we increase our understanding of the Iron Age and Roman environment?

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In order to more fully understand settlement, we need a better understanding of the Late Iron Age and Roman landscape, climate and sea-level change. There is a need for landscape characterisation for the Late Iron Age and Roman periods.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 07: How can we better understand the region’s Roman villas?

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As a formal ‘type’, villas are one category that have seen relatively little recent fieldwork. With so many investigated pre-PPG 16, and largely without modern-standard analyses and ‘science’, further ‘set-piece’ excavations of them are required by which to address issues of rural settlement hierarchy and their interrelationship with farmsteads.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 08: How might we distinguish Roman estate-centres?

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Apart from just formal architectural-plan criteria, how ‘estate centres’ – as opposed to villas –are distinguished is not straightforward, with ‘estates’ themselves now risking becoming something of a convenient catch-all category. At their core, estate centres have to be considered as foci of production and the control of surplus, whereas villas primarily related to consumption and distinct modes of conspicuous architectural display.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 09: How can we improve the recognition of Late Iron Age inhumations?

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Within the region, the occurrence of Late-period inhumations was first recognised in the 1920s and, since, later Iron Age inhumations have been recovered on a number of sites, including the Biddenham Loop and the Babraham Institute. The latter deserves notice as, occurring near an unaccompanied male, an adult female there had a Colchester-type brooch and, by her head, a beaker and a pedestal tazza. Yet, most of these Late Iron Age/first century AD inhumations are without grave goods and this – especially the lack of accompanying brooches – seems in contrast to contemporary cremation burials. Accordingly, the implications of these ‘mixed’ rites are potentially great: was it a matter of status, different beliefs and/or populations? Certainly, further radiocarbon dating of such interments will be necessary.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 10: Can we map the development of Late Iron Age and Roman roads?

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We need to map Late Iron Age roads, and smaller tracks and lanes. In doing so, we may see the development of road networks earlier than the Roman period. We need to consider the relationship between roads and settlements.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 11: When did towns emerge during the Late Iron Age and Roman periods?

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We need to give greater consideration to the origins of towns – when were they formed? Consider oppida in the Late Iron Age – how far back to ‘towns’ go? When does the ‘market’ system begin? What evidence do we have for early road networks and how does this connect ‘towns’? Characterise them. Is there regional variation?
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 12: How can we increase fieldwork within Roman town cores?

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Developer-funded fieldwork has afforded relatively few opportunities to investigate, at least at any scale, the ‘core-areas’ of the region’s Roman towns and where, instead, most recent excavation has occurred in their suburbs and hinterlands. While the latter are seeing various degree of environmental sampling programmes, with the town-core investigations having been undertaken to pre-modern standards, much of this work was then conducted without much archaeological science and offers little statistical control of their recovered finds. This means that it can be difficult to directly compare town results proper with those from their suburbs and hinterland settlements. When opportunities arise within the ‘cores’, these should be intensively excavated to a high standard to maximise recovery and be accompanied by intense environmental sampling.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 13: How can we increase our understanding of Late Iron Age and Roman farmsteads?

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Many sites of this type have now been excavated within the region and this is to the point that they soon risk becoming repetitive. Too much excavation is strictly focused on their core-area paddocks, with insufficient attention given to their fields. Not only is this true as regards environmental study (e.g. soil micromorphology and pollen), concerning what was actually growing where, but also what processing and stock facilities – and, even, industrial activities – actually occurred out in the fields. In this, further testing of whether fields were manured is needed (especially lazy-bed plots), as is determining the location of woodlots. With some landscapes so packed with farmsteads, to what degree was the land ‘managed’ and their practices sustainable? In short, the operation of the period’s farmsteads will not be understood by only investigating their settlement-area cores; their fields, and the holdings’ ‘interfaces’, require investigation. We also need further analysis of buildings associated with farmsteads.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 14: How can we improve the environmental sampling of Late Iron Age and Roman farmsteads?

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Emphasis should be given to the recovery and analyses of waterlogged plant remains, as they generally contain a far greater range of fruits and horticultural crops than bulk charred remains’ samples. Equally, insect remains can elucidate what grain pests were introduced in Roman times and where livestock were concentrated. In this capacity, the further application of scientific methods will prove insightful. Human isotopic analyses have shown dietary differences relating to Romanisation and, arguably, rural and urban consumption patterns. Moreover, aDNA and isotopic analyses have the potential to inform us of animal management and whether improved stock were imported from the Continent.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 15: Should fewer farmsteads be excavated in more detail?

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It is settlements of this type in which variable methodologies should be applied. Rather than continuing to dig them by just ‘standard rote’, in the light of their frequency, some could see more minimal recording (e.g. just establishing their plan layout and broad sequence-chronology). In balance, though, others warrant being excavated (and sampled) to a much higher intensity, so that the dynamics of their operation – variously the foci of processing, storage, consumption and middening – can be interrogated and detailed. With so much excavation of such sites being undertaken, and with their ‘norms’ now being established, in order to make any serious contribution to knowledge and robust statements about the past requires substantial assemblages.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 16: Can we better distinguish between Late Iron Age and Early Roman features and sites?

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The distinction between Late Iron Age and Early Roman-period pottery assemblages can be difficult. One result of this is that there has been something of a trend to group together the first century AD ‘transition’ into one broad phase. While in some cases this cannot be avoided, every effort should be made to disentangle and articulate their respective settlement layouts when possible. The actual impact of the Conquest, after all, has to be one of the key horizons in land-use/cultural sequences that require understanding. Accordingly, attempting to achieve this, a greater intensity of excavation sampling of these horizons’ features may be necessary. Further to calls for greater methodological innovation, it may well be necessary to not just excavate site sequences by just uniform rote, but vary the sampling intensity (especially of linear features) according to the needs/questions being asked of specific phases and their articulation.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 17: How can we better utilise site finds densities in the study of Romano-British sites?

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There have been recent calls for greater statistical control of site finds densities, so that the quantities achieved from one type of settlement can truly be compared to others. Of course, this by no means is exclusive to Romano-British sites, but the need is all the more acute for the period due to the sheer number of sites dug per annum of that attribution, the size of its assemblages and, too, because of its greater range of settlement types – its established ‘hierarchy’ – than in later prehistory. Such measures would allow us to firmly explore whether there were depositional threshold-levels and other assemblage correlates between town, suburban and hinterland/countryside settlements.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 18: How can we make greater use of artefact distributional analyses?

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There clearly is a pressing need for site publications to more widely present artefact-category distributional analyses. Given that almost all major sites are now digitally recorded and computerised finds data-bases are employed, it is remarkable how few of their publications actually include specific artefact-type distributions. Without this, it is difficult to appreciate, for example, a settlement’s middening patterns or whether finewares clustering occurred adjacent to house compounds, as opposed to animal paddocks. Not undertaking this kind analysis and visualisation is to miss one of the main strengths of large-scale/total settlement investigations, and it is all the more necessary on rural sites where structural evidence can be minimal.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 19: How can we make greater use of metal-detecting during the excavation of Roman sites?

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Overview studies have variously called for surface collection and the consistent application of metal-detecting on Roman settlements. Certainly, as regards issues of identity, settlement status and the distinction of their inhabitants’ ‘roles’, the maximization of metalwork assemblages must be considered a major directive. True of the periods’ coins, personal ornaments and tools, the quantity of finds caught up in surface deposits on ploughed-out sites has been shown to be considerable. Accordingly, even if intensive fieldwalking-collection if often unpractical, every attempt needs to be made to metal-detect these horizons. During the course of machine-stripping the main Roman settlements at Longstanton/Northstowe, following the stripping of the topsoil, the lower soil horizon was systematically metal-detected with finds plotted by hand-held GPS units. This has proven a quick and efficient technique. If properly co-ordinated, it need not result in any delay or interruption to a site’s stripping programme, and can result in a massive increase in metalwork finds.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 20: How can we improve the recovery of Late Iron Age and Roman buildings?

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It is clear that many of the periods’ settlements result in the recovery of a very few, if any, definite building remains. This is largely the product of intense plough-damage, that many of the periods’ structures were evidently not deeply footed and just involved sill-beam construction, plus also the impact of ‘hard’ excavation machine-stripping. It is obviously unfeasible to carefully expose strata in such a manner given the large-scale excavation programmes now regularly undertaken. Nevertheless when, for example, evaluation-phase geophysical surveys indicate the location of buildings, then greater care should be taken in their exposure and to allow greater finds retrieval and sampling (e.g. metal-detecting and phosphate/magnetic susceptibility) of their overlying ‘interface’. Put simply, to keep on excavating so many settlements of the period as is now happening, but with so little recovery of convincing building plans, seems rather pointless and, at least in some instances, doing less – but better – might provide ‘more’.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 21: How can we improve the recovery of Late Iron Age and Roman cemeteries and human remains?

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Reviewing the site literature, it is revealing how many Roman settlements are being excavated in their near-entirety, but without cemeteries identified. In recognition that accompanying cemeteries may lie at a distance to their settlements’ compounds, the argument could be made that, in the course of evaluation fieldwork, a higher intensity of trench sampling-interval may be necessary in their surrounding area.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 22: How can we improve our chronological understanding of burial rites?

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With the distinction of ‘mixed’ burial rites within both Late Iron Age and Roman-period cemeteries, the need to absolutely date key burials – and not just rely of ‘typological’ criteria – is becoming ever more apparent. With so few Late inhumations having dateable grave goods, not only is this crucial as regards Late Iron Age/post-Roman traditions, but also to establish the advent and spread of such practices as decapitation.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 23: What can new scientific techniques tell us about Late Iron Age and Roman skeletal remains?

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The application of scientific techniques – both aDNA and isotopic – is where great advances are currently being made and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Not only does this have the potential to identify whom were ‘foreigners’ within burial communities but also familial groupings within cemeteries. In this regard, Harvard’s mass-scale first millennium BC aDNA sample (also including Conquest Period/Early Roman burials) is likely to produce ground-breaking results and, with experimental trials currently in hand, it can only be hoped that this could soon be extended to cremated remains. The application of scientific techniques to the periods’ human remains also relates to matters of health. Beyond just standard measures of trauma and pathology, advances in the study of bodily parasites means that bulk soil samples should now be routinely taken from the stomach-area of inhumations and, arguably, also animal-carcass burials. In this capacity, the distinction of diseases, and perhaps even plagues, can be anticipated, and their impact upon population and available labour could well have been dramatic.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 24: How can we increase our understanding of Late Iron Age and Roman pottery industries?

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Issues of ceramic trade/supply are coming to the fore and it is imperative that relevant specialists are familiar with the full range of major pottery industries so that the scale of their regional distributions can be mapped. Conversely, with ‘Early’ kilns now being widely found on settlements the context of their production needs to be explored: were they strictly local settlement related or were some more widely traded? To this end, programmes of thin-sectioning will need to be regularly implemented. The last 20 years of pottery studies have failed to consider the Roman to Anglo-Saxon transition despite ‘modern’ questioning and data. Where is the late Roman to Anglo-Saxon transition in ceramics?
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE

LIA-Rom 25: To what extent was change across the region the result of population movement and acculturalisation?

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We have come to think of the Aylesford-Swarling zone in terms of standard core-periphery models and where its defining traits would regularly fall-off or ‘decay’ with distance from their ‘core’. Given the evidence form the Bedford- and the Cambridge-areas – respectively their small square shrines and cremation rings – this may not be what happened. Almost as if marking the border, the zone’s northern limits maybe seeing stronger trait-expression than anticipated; both ‘behind’ and beyond it, there seems something of a patchwork wherein individual communities variously interacted with and uptook these Gaulish influences. If so, this is surely a theme warranting broader study and much more detailed pottery analysis. After all, on this hangs a great deal. The issue being to what degree, across the region, this change was a matter of any population influx, as opposed to varying responses to, and the complicated dynamics of, acculturalisation.
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ROMAN, LATE IRON AGE