Three Hundred Miles in the Footsteps of Vespasian ... and the Ancient Monuments Laboratory

Authors: Cheetham, P., Stewart, D. and Manley, H.

Editors: Jennings, B., Gaffney, C., Sparrow, T. and Gaffney, S.

Start date: 12 September 2017

Journal: 12th International Conference of Archaeological Prospection

Issue: 12

Pages: 34-35

Publisher: Archaopress

Place of Publication: Oxford

ISBN: 9781784916770

For many years it was postulated that there should be a Roman invasion base somewhere in Dorset from which this phase of Vespasian’s campaign was conducted. Norman Field, a schoolteacher and amateur archaeologist, suggested the possible site of such a base at Lake Farm near Wimborne Minster, with his trial excavations in the 1960s indicating he might be correct. As a result of the finding, in the late 1970s and early 80s, one of the most significant large-scale geophysical surveys undertaken at the time by the Ancient Monuments Laboratory proved the presence of not just a small fort, but unexpectedly, a large 12Ha Roman vexillation fortress.

In 2016 a team from Bournemouth University took on the challenge of building on that seminal AML survey, by resurveying the areas and, more importantly, extending the survey into areas of the fortress and its immediate hinterland not covered by the original surveys.

The surveys have covered an area in excess of 40 hectares, and required walking more than 300 statute miles (326 Roman miles or 483km) in the process. While not adding major anomalies in the areas already surveyed by the AML team, the increased coverage does clarify overall the size and layout of the fortress and reveals extensive evidence of extramural activity. It is this extramural activity that has led to a reinterpretation of the fortress in relation to the military road system. The results show that there appears not to have been a road approaching from the south and directly entering the fortress by its southern gateway. However, there is a clear road from the east lined with anomalies of an ‘industrial’ character. This suggests that the original supply line into the fortress was from the east, approaching up the valley of the Stour, utilising the river to bring supplies inland to the fortress and not overland, as has been previously assumed, from the Roman port that developed at Hamworthy, on the banks of Poole Harbour.

This research delivers both a celebration of, and an accolade to, the pioneers of archaeological geophysics in the UK in their discovery of this fortress, while showing how the more recent geophysical surveys have changed our understanding of the role of the fortress and its relationship to the Roman port at Hamworthy. Both surveys confirm that it is geophysical techniques that have provided the step changes in our understanding of this monument.

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