July 22, 2024

An archaeological survey of more than 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) in Shropshire identified a host of previously unknown features, including two large Roman villas and several earlier Iron Age farmsteads.

The geophysical survey, the largest ever conducted by the National Trustused ground scanning technology to map unnoticed features near the site of the Roman city of Wroxeterjust south of present-day Shrewsbury.

As well as the two buried villas, characterized on the scan by their highly distinctive shape, and eight prehistoric farms, archaeologists also found evidence of a Roman cemetery, Roman road network and new features associated with a previously identified Anglo- Saxon great hall.

The National Trust, which owns the land, said the “one-of-a-kind” survey was carried out to help it plan for future conservation and tree-planting schemes across the landscape, as part of its ambitious targets to tackle climate change.

Viriconium Cornoviorumor Wroxeter, was the fourth most important city in Roman Britain and experts fully anticipated the site of his stately home, Attingham Park, near the city’s ruins to be archaeologically significant, said Janine Young, an archaeologist at the trust. Harvest marks on the landscape in dry summers also indicated burial sites.

Greyscale geophysics data showing the site of a possible Roman villa on the Attingham Estate in Shropshire. Photo: National Trust/PA

However, the extent of the discoveries was a surprise, she said. “This is a very rich area archaeologically speaking. I am also looking at other National Trust properties and there is no way you will get this level of occupation [elsewhere]. The landscape has had quite a dense occupation throughout history, and it is that continuous occupation that is very exciting.”

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Only six other Roman villas – the equivalent of a large estate – are known in Shropshire, making the two new sites particularly significant, Young said. While there are no immediate plans to excavate, she said it is “entirely possible” that the features could include elaborate mosaic floors and the remains of underfloor heating systems.

Young said: “Villa sites are usually decorated with mosaic floors, and they are often heated hypocrites. These are the types of things that survive underground, because they are at the bottom layer, if you will. So it is entirely possible that there would be mosaic floors if they survived under the plowed soil, which this geophysical survey suggests they do.”

However, she identified the Iron Age homestead camps, which showed up particularly clearly in the ground scan, as her personal favorite discovery. “We picked up a lovely circular feature suggesting a round house, inhabited by an Iron Age family. You go straight to the personal level, where we can see the outline of the house that would have been lived in.”

The trust says a better understanding of the landscape will help it “[plan] land use changes with its tenants to help sequester carbon, build climate resilience and support nature recovery”.

Young said: “We can protect the archaeology, and also learn from the way the land was used in the past, to come up with the best possible use in the future.”

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