Identity and Power: Wimpole at the time of the Roman Conquest

Excavating a thriving Iron Age and Roman settlement in the summer of 2018

With: Paddy Lambert, of Oxford Archaeology East
Monday 14th October, 7:30pm
Histon Baptist Church, Histon, CB24 9LN

Exciting new ideas about the Romans in Cambridgeshire
In a lively, colourful and absorbing talk, Paddy Lambert, of Oxford Archaeology East, project officer on the 2018 excavations on the site of the new visitor centre at Wimpole, proposed a new view of the impact of the Romans in the Cambridgeshire countryside.
What was the area like in the pre-Roman iron Age?
In the late Iron Age, the site was occupied by a community living in round houses, with large stock enclosures, farming in long narrow fields and keeping sheep and/or goats. Such a settlement was typical of the many now known to have exploited the clay lowlands at that time. A cluster of Iron Age coins, unusual on a rural site, and including ones of Cunobeline, c. 50 B.C., and Tasciovanus, was found.
What was found from the Roman period?
Importantly, there was a very large number of finds, which allow an unusually precise dating of the impact here of the arrival of the Romans after 43 A.D. Among these are a Roman fingernail cleaner, an ornate key handle and a spoon for oysters. The majority date from 50-65 A.D. and suggest the settlement was an active and complex social entity.
It may be that Wimpole was dominant in the area. Very often the arrival of the Roman army has been portrayed primarily as conquest but Paddy showed that here the major motivation was trade, with no evidence of attack, so that instead of ‘conquest’, we should think of communication and exchange.
What was local society like?
Status in the local community was indicated by display – via numbers of cattle, now kept, superior building structures and brooches, which must have come with the army. However, although the site was occupied until the fourth century, after 69 A.D. ditches started to fill and no small finds of the succeeding 30-50 years were found. This is unusual and It was suggested that the break in contact between the Romans and the local community may have been due to Wimpole’s being caught up in the famous revolt by Boudicca/Boadicea in 61 A.D. The site, relatively prominent on a low hill, is, of course, very close to the Roman route ways now known as Ermine St and Akeman St.
Later Roman contact
Special finds dating from the early 2nd century include a socketed spearhead and a silver military award, a type normally found in towns or religious centres only. Particularly exciting was strapping from a Roman suit of armour and the copper-alloy handle of a spatula, used for smoothing wax tablets, which was in the very rare form of the Celtic god Cernunnos, holding a torc. A cluster of early fourth century coins, minted in Trier, indicate contact continuing not long before the withdrawal of the Romans from England.
The quantity and quality of the evidence from this site is a powerful reminder of the archaeological potential of so much of our apparently ordinary landscape!

Liz Allan
HIAG committee member

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