Just to the west of Peterborough lies the Roman town of Durobrivae. This town is one of the so-called ‘small towns’, i.e., not one of the public towns with an administrative function. It is, however, somewhat larger than some of the public towns such as Caistor-by-Norwich, the civitas-capital of the Iceni. Duriobrivae had a town wall, parch marks from which can be seen on the Google Earth image along with Ermine Street (the straight line through the town from SE to NW) and the irregular street plan (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Google Earth image of Durobrivae.
Oblique aerial photography over the years has revealed much about the interior of the town, as well as extensive suburbs, prehistoric features, villas and so on. Fig. 2 shows an oblique image of the town.
Fig 2: Oblique aerial photograph of the town. Reproduced courtesy of Stephen Upex.
I was particularly fascinated to see a large group of circular features to the south of the town, some of which appear to be the ditches around round-barrows, but others are far too large and are tentatively suggested to be some form of henge (Figs. 3 and 4).
Fig. 3: Google Earth image of the field to the south of the town showing circular prehistoric features.
Fig. 4: Oblique aerial photograph of the field to the south of the town showing the Roman suburbs and earlier prehistoric circular features. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Upex.
Ruth Halliwell (WAS), who has worked with CAGG regularly, is working on the town for her dissertation and we arranged to go and team-up with local archaeologists to undertake some survey. It was very much a “proof of concept” trip: which techniques would work best there? Would the surveys add to what could be seen from the air? We undertook three days survey running all three main machines (magnetometry, resistance and GPR), and Peter Alley also used his UAV to take high-level photographs, partly with a view to creating topographic maps.
Despite early problems with the mag, we managed to survey an 80m wide, 360m long strip NS across the town. The overall results can be seen in Fig. 5.
Fig. 5: the magnetometry survey.
There is a great deal going on in the results. Ermine Street shows clearly running across the NE corner of the survey transect and matches the parch mark beautifully. Either side of Ermine Street are a series of buildings with their gable ends onto the road in the approved Romano-British manner. Other streets can be seen, again matching the parch marks. Not all the buildings are so clear, but there are clearly other walls that can be seen in the data. Towards the south, the pattern is more complex. The results could be cleaned-up a little more. In places we were suffering from some stagger, partly as a result of the fine reddy-brown dust that settled over all the machines and their operators (Fig. 6) which, combined with the lubricant we use on the cogs, turned to a sticky slurry.
Fig. 6: the red dust all over the GPR. Image courtesy of Mike Smith.
We undertook a radar survey using the Mala GPR we have on loan from SEAHA. Pushing the GPR was quite hard work in the long grass, especially as one goes over the agger on which Ermine Street appears to have been constructed (Fig. 7). The team did, however, manage to complete an excellent six blocks of data.
Fig. 7: Pushing the GPR over Ermine Street.
The images on the screen of the GPR shows that we were getting reasonable depth penetration. I created amplitude maps in 3ns thick slices. The third slice map (Fig. 8) clearly shows the surface of Ermine street, but for most of the area surveyed the radar signal is still in the ploughsoil.
Fig. 8: time slice 3, 10.5-13.5ns.
In the fourth time slice (13.5–16.5ns, Fig. 9) some of the other roads are starting to show, and odd bits of wall. One very curious feature is the lighter coloured band across the middle of the southern area. Although it would appear to be related to our grid, our survey was conducted NS across that band. The aerial photograph (Fig. 2) does show a band across the field so perhaps this is related to some sort of cultivation pattern?
Fig. 9: time slice 4, 13.5-16.5ns.
The fifth slice (16.5–19.5ns) shows more details in the buildings (Fig. 10). In the centre of the lower block is a square feature. This is the Romano-Celtic temple known from aerial photographs. This type of temple, well-known from many sites across the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire and consists of two concentric squares, usually reconstructed as an inner sanctum and an outer ambulatory. The two roads the the north and south of the temple appear to mark the edges of the temenos or sacred precinct. There is a hint of a possibly paved area to the west of the temple, and a solid feature between the internal and external walls to the east. In the northern block there are hints of the walls on either side of the road as seen in the magnetometry data.
Fig. 10: time slice 5, 16.5-19.5ns.
In the sixth time slice (19.5–22.5ns) we can start to see some of the buildings along Ermine Street not, as I had expected, as black ‘high amplitude’ features shown in black i.e., stone walls, but as low amplitude features, i.e., areas which have fewer items that would reflect radar waves (Fig. 11). At Verulamium, I have interpreted these as where the stone foundations have been robbed, but here we know less about the construction techniques used. Part of the difficulty is that Ermine Street is on a quite marked bank which means the radar has a greater depth of deposits to penetrate. I undertook a topographic survey of just the northern block area (Fig. 12) and in the future will be able to process the GPR data taking into account the topography.
Fig. 11: time slice 6, 19.5-22.5ns.
Fig. 12: topographic survey of the northern block.
In the seventh and eighth time slices (22.5–25.5ns, 25.5–28.5ns), the GPR radar waves are starting to attenuate and we are getting quite faint reflections, but some of the deeper foundations show in these lower time slices (Figs. 13–14), For example, some of the buildings along Ermine Street start to show very well in Fig. 13, and the outer wall of the Romano-Celtic temple shows very well in Fig. 14.
Fig. 13: time slice 6, 22.5-25.5ns.
Fig. 14: time slice 6, 25.5-28.5ns.
There is a great deal more which can be extracted from the GPR data, especially by looking at the radargrams (the vertical slices) and comparing them to the time slices. The results are less “black and white” than at Verulamium and quite complex, but there is a great deal going on in this data which will take a bit of work to tease out all the details.
As well as the magnetometry and radar surveys, we undertook a resistance survey using UCL’s new RM85 meter (Fig. 15). We took readings every 50cm. We managed to survey an area 60x by 80m which had also been surveyed using the GPR and the magnetometer.
Fig. 15: Richard Cushing and Stephen Upex working on the resistance survey.
The result of this survey was quite surprising (Fig. 16).
Fig. 16: the earth resistance survey.
The square within a square plan of the Romano-Celtic temple could not have been more obvious. The small room on the eastern side, partially seen in the GPR survey, shows clearly. The temenos is also quite clear. A spectacular result, but one that raises a question. Why is the inside of the temple such low resistance? Normally, low resistance like this is related to water retention. Is the outer wall of the temple causing water to pool within the wall? It is useful to compare the three surveys (Fig. 17).
Fig. 17: comparing the three survey techniques and the parch marks in the area of the temple.
It will take a bit of work to draw-up a composite interpretation plan.
Peter Alley also undertook some surveys with his UAV (Fig. 18).
Fig. 18: Peter Alley using his UAV to map the site.
As well as taking high-level images of sites, the UAVs pictures can be used to create topographic models using a technique called “Structure from motion”. Fig. 19 shows a topo plan of part of the site derived from the photographs. The actual heights vary from my plan because the UAV’s plan needs to be corrected against some control points, but the relative heights are great. This technique is going to prove very useful in future.
Fig. 19: Topo map in QGIS derived from the UAV’s aerial imagery.
The aim of this three days of fieldwork was simply to see which survey techniques would provide useful information at this site. The answer is: all of them! We already have a huge amount of data to examine in more detail, and a great deal of thinking to do. It certainly seems that a more extensive programme of geophysical survey would add to our knowledge of the town greatly, as well as other archaeological features such as the “henges” to the south.
As always, many thanks indeed to everyone who came to help, especially Mike Smith for transporting and running the GPR, and Jim West for helping to run the mag. This was a great team effort between local group members and CAGG, and exactly what our group exists to do.
Fig. 20: the end of day.