Jul 25, 2019 in History

Archeological Investigations At Turkdean Roman Villa, Gloucestershire

Archeology is a science that helps the humanity uncover its past and learn more about its ancestors, the way they lived, religions and cultures they practiced, how their societies were organized and interacted with the external environment, their political neighbors, and the world in general, as well as many other factors. To be able to do that, archeologists have to employ a wide range of methods, techniques, and tools required for a successful and productive archeological process. The case of the archeological investigations at Turkdean Roman Villa in Gloucestershire, UK, is a vivid example of how the archeological process can be organized and conducted within a limited timeframe that, nonetheless, produces significant achievements and discoveries. This case is also of utmost importance because of the location of the archeological investigations, which is essential for understanding the long period in the history of Britain and Roman Empire, as well as their interaction during the period of the latter’s presence in the former. This villa was discovered in 1997, which means that it is a quite recent discovery, and its archeological investigations were primarily conducted via live excavations and geophysical surveys that allowed identifying some places where tranches would generate the most revealing evidence. However, the location remains largely under-researched as there are many unanswered questions about the villa and its place in the political and social environment in Great Britain. However, it is known that, at the time, it was actively used and inhabited by either Romans or Romanized Britons. Therefore, it is necessary to overview aims, methods, and archeological investigations that have already been conducted at the location to find out which of them have been the most effective and informative and thus can be replicated and used in further studies of the villa.

As mentioned above, Turkdean Roman Villa has been discovered as an archeological site of great importance and interest quite recently. However, there had existed suppositions about the existence of some ancient building or construction at the site before the start of the archeological investigations in 1997. Hence, a farmer and owner of the land plot named Wilf Mustoe made a sketch of the site with an accurate description of main rooms and corridors inside the villa, as well as adjacent buildings and courtyards in 1976. Subsequently, in 1995 an amateurish archeologist happened to fly over the location in a helicopter and noticed some patterns on the ground indicating the presence of ancient ruins under the surface, which he photographed and used to evoke the public interest to the site. These two discoveries of the site happened independently from each other, which allowed thinking that there was something important at the land plot in Gloucestershire. It prompted further investigations of a TV crew entitled Time Team that decided to carry out an archeological investigation in a live mode in August 1997. They dedicated three days to finding out whether something worthwhile could be found not far from Chalkhill Barn in Turkdean, which is located two miles from the Fosse Way and 12 miles from Cirencester. The three-day project of live excavations resulted in a discovery of a rather well-preserved Roman British villa complex that also happened to be among the largest complexes constructed by Romans in Britain that had been discovered so far. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the key aim of the archeological investigations conducted at Turkdean Roman Villa was to verify previous suspicions about the existence of a large Roman villa at the site and further study the available ruins and evidence. Another objective was to reveal more information about this complex in particular and this period of British and Roman history in general. Besides, the archeological investigations of the site were conducted in two key phases, with the first one taking place in August 1997 and the second one being dated 1998. The second phase was prompted by the last-day discovery of the previous phase when archeologists found some additional constructions of unknown purpose some distance away from the principal site. They supposed that these constructions could be ruins of some temple or other building used for worshipping but had no evidence to support this hypothesis. Hence, the aim of the second phase of the archeological investigations was the clarification of the previous findings and expansion of the area investigated so that more information about the villa complex could be gathered and learnt.

To accomplish the above aims, the television crew invited archeologists who used the most effective and efficient methods suitable for the location. Overall, these methods included geophysical surveys, live excavation on several sites, where tranches were dug based on results of surveys, collection of material evidence, and subsequent reconstruction of how the complex could have looked like on a computer. Such method as geophysical surveys was among the most significant and revealing in the process of archeological investigations of Turkdean Roman Villa in Gloucestershire. Two types of surveying were used, including resistivity and magnetic techniques. Since this method is rather time-consuming, the crew of investigators, using professional equipment, had started their work on site before filming the episode, which allowed receiving a clear picture of the principal excavation location before starting to dig. Initially, magnetic geophysical surveys were conducted. The conditions for this particular type of surveying were beneficial thanks to the composition of the local soil, which are brown rendzinas, and the state of the farmed field where the villa was located. A particular type of magnetic survey chosen for the investigation was a fluxgate gradiometer survey with the use of Geoscan Research FM36. This part of the geophysical survey lasted from August of 1997 to May of 1998 and was divided into two phases, which covered the total area of 6.3 hectares researched at half-meter intervals. Findings of the two phases of the survey did not differ essentially in quality thanks to relatively even and similar field and weather conditions. At the same time, this type of survey did not manage to provide totally clear, accurate, and revealing results because of the presence of some gradiometer anomalies at the site, as well as magnetic materials dated as medieval and modern, which interfered with the process. 

 

In turn, the other type of geophysical survey called resistance survey allowed receiving extremely useful images used later for live excavation. This type of survey was a Two-Probe one and envisioned the use of Geoscan Research RM15 with a multiplex system. Just like the magnetic survey, resistance survey took place in two phases occurring in March and August of 1997 and May of 1998 respectively. However, the results of the two phases were of drastically different quality. On the whole, this survey covered the total area of 1.5 hectares during the first phase and 2.4 hectares during the second phase. The quality of images received during the two phases was different with the first phase producing accurate and clear images as compared to the second one. It can be explained by differences in field and weather conditions during the survey. In any case, these two methods produced essential findings about the villa complex and allowed reconstructing how it might have looked like with the help of special computer software. These methods may be deemed as the most suitable with account for the location and conditions under which the surveys were taking place. Based on the images obtained in the process of geophysical surveys, the team of archeologists decided to dig several trenches to explore the villa complex in more detail and gather some material evidence for further analysis. The trenches were used for identifying dating of the location and more in-depth analysis of the outlay of the villa and its intended purposes. In terms of material evidence, they collected metalwork, coins, and pottery that were then analyzed with the application of the most topical archeological methods and modern equipment. Overall, it seems that the methods chosen for the archeological investigations of Turkdean Roman Villa complied with the set aims and managed to produce useful and vital findings about dating, uses, and structure of the complex. However, six days of live excavation can be deemed hardly enough for making some exhaustive findings, but they have laid the foundation for further studies. In turn, geophysical surveys produced rather clear and accurate results, which allowed for identifying the most promising sites for excavation and reconstructing the view of the villa complex in general.

The above methods resulted in the discovery of one of the largest villa complexes constructed by Romans or Romanized Britons in Great Britain, supposedly at some time in the 1st century A.D.. Initially, archeologists supposed that the villa belonged to a rich Romanized British family that was gradually constructing a stunning villa in line with Roman architectural traditions and constantly redeveloping it from the 1st century A.D. to the end of the 4th century A.D.. However, it is not possible to verify this supposition as, presumably, a Roman family lived there and left it along with the Romans leaving Britain. In any case, this complex is among the largest and most elaborate constructions with some puzzles that continue being discovered in the country till nowadays. Location of the villa near the water source that allowed building a system of baths and aqueducts was quite common for the Romans. Analysis of the ruins indicated that the villa was constructed at about the 2nd century A.D. while the previously found pieces dated the 1st century belonged to a rather modest initial building that underwent subsequent remodeling. The family supposedly rebuilt their family house so that it would look more grand and luxurious. Hence, the villa complex at the height of its architectural glory had three large court yards, which was rather common for Roman villas. The initial family house was used for housing of slaves and other household purposes when the family moved to a larger villa in the inner courtyard after its construction. 

However, some of the findings are quite puzzling. For instance, it is a bath in the inner courtyard. However, it is possible that in such a way a clear separation of the public and private chambers was ensured. Geophysical surveys allowed creating a rather detailed plan of the villa complex. Hence, it is known that a 6-meter-wide entrance separated the middle and outer courtyards, and the location of main corridors and rooms is known, as well. At the same time, archeologists failed to determine the intended use of these rooms. Analysis of material evidence gathered at the site shows that the villa complex was used until the end of the 4th century A.D., and archeologists suppose that, after that time, the decay of the house started even though fields were further used by the locals. Some pieces of pottery found at the site hint at some manufactural activities conducted at the complex, but this fact cannot be verified with available evidence. The presence of a spring close to the villa was perhaps the main reason for choosing the site for the construction, which was also common for Romans. Some shards of a shrine found at the site allowed concluding that religious beliefs of the locals were common for Romans, yet this fact cannot be deemed conclusive based on the available evidence only. The archeological investigations have resulted in the development of a rough plan of the villa complex and suggestion of some possible facts about the life of its residents. However, further studies of the location are necessary to verify the findings and learn more about the villa. 

Withal, Turkdean Roman Villa offers a wide range of opportunities for learning more about the essential period of British and Roman common history. The archeological investigations of the site have outlaid the foundation for further research and excavation to verify already obtained results and revealing more facts about the life of the villa residents and the process of architectural remodeling evident from the gathered evidence. Methods chosen for the analysis and study of the site generally comply with the set aims and have proved useful and valuable. However, there remain many puzzles and mysteries that have to be clarified with the use of modern equipment and more extensive archeological investigations that surely should be carried out at Turkdean Roman Villa in Gloucestershire.

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