Calleva Atrebatum (G-B): Was the growth of an Iron Age town down to French immigrants?

Ben Miller

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V0 master 103Archaeologists believe this could have been an Iron Age poodle buried in Hampshire© University of Reading

An 18-year excavation at one of Britain’s most important Roman sites will use a £1 million grant to attempt to reveal whether the rapid expansion of the settlement of Calleva Atrebatum – the Roman town which is now the village of Silchester – was a result of a growing local population or 1st century BC French immigrants.

V0 master 1 37Calleva's ruined amphitheatre© Pam Brophy /

Since 2008, a University of Reading team has excavated increasingly unprecedented finds in the first evidence of an Iron Age town in the UK. They will now study 100 square kilometres of the surrounding landscape, using survey methods and small-scale digs in the hope of making more discoveries like the 50-metre building – the largest example of a house from the period ever found in Britain.

V0 master 2 25The original project, The Silchester Roman Town Life Project in Insula IX, ended last summer© University of Reading

Exploring Iron Age Calleva however has been tantalisingly out of reach until now,” says Professor Michael Fulford, who says the work has created an “unparalleled picture” of early Roman times in the area.

V0 master 3 19The wall of the Roman city of Calleva© Phil Smith /

"In this first year we are excavating two sites – continuing our work in Insula III, inside the Roman Town walls, and Pond Farm, a presumed Iron Age hillfort about 1 km north-west of the town.

V0 master 4 11A succession of great Iron Age halls began to emerge during the final seasons© University of Reading

This may lead to evidence that the Iron Age town was a natural development, a nucleation emerging out of the prehistoric settlement of the north Hampshire and West Berkshire countryside, ather than a planned colony of Atrebates, a Gallic tribe from northern France, led by their famous leader, Commius.

"The story of Roman Silchester may have ended for now - but the tale of Iron Age Calleva is just beginning."

V0 master 5 8Excavations at Insula IX© Wikimedia Commons

Comparable buildings have only previously been found in northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands.