British Archaeology, no 6, July 1995: News

Roman power traced to far south-western Wales

Evidence has been found that Roman power reached further than was thought into remote south-western Wales. Archaeologists from the Dyfed Archaeological Trust have traced, over the past three years, a well-engineered Roman road running 20 miles west of Carmarthen, civitas capital of the Demetae and the most westerly Roman town in Britain.

The line of the road disappears west of the East Cleddau river, and its final destination and purpose remain unclear. However, according to the excavators, the road may have been built either for military purposes to pacify the locals, or as a link road to a port at Milford Haven or to slate quarries in the Preseli Mountains.

Don Benson, Director of the Trust, said: `Until four years ago, the area west of Carmarthen was a mystery in the Roman period. There were some finds of coins and Roman imports on native settlements; but the evidence for Romanisation in the area was very slight. It was assumed it was a peacable area, which caused no trouble for the Romans and was left alone. This road seems to change that view.'

The road was first noticed on air photographs, and later confirmed by a two-year programme of excavations funded by Cadw. It was built to military specifications on an agger - or raised causeway - parts of which survive, and was terraced along some hillsides and cut through others. At Whitland, Dyfed, where a new bypass will destroy a stretch of the road, excavations this year have found it was cobbled and perhaps originally had a flagstone surface.

No evidence of Roman activity has been found at Milford Haven but, according to Mr Benson, it has long been considered a possible site of a Roman port because of its natural qualities as a harbour. Evidence does exist, however, of Roman roofs at Carmarthen made of phyllite, a type of slate, from the Preseli mountains. Unfortunately, however, the road does not point directly at either destination.

Traces of planking and vertical timbers underlying the Roman road at Whitland suggest the road may have been built - in one place at least - along the line of an earlier trackway. The road at this point runs over peat, and the timbers may represent a prehistoric trackway across marshland. However, the date of the timbers is not yet clear.

If the Roman road were military in purpose, forts can be expected along its route. The hunt for forts, and for further stretches of road, will continue next year.

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Multi-media journal for archaeology

An interactive, multi-media electronic journal for archaeology, which may be the first of its kind (in any subject) anywhere in the world, is to be set up following the award of a UKP185,000 grant from the UK Higher Education Funding Councils as part of their Electronic Libraries Programme.

The international academic journal, provisionally entitled Internet Archaeology, will be available over the Internet from summer 1996, and represents a breakthrough in academic publishing. Unlike print journals, it will be able to publish types of archaeological evidence unpublishable in printed form (such as video clips of excavation work, and dynamic visualisations of what sites might once have looked like), unlimited colour photography, complete excavation databases, and access to the software originally used by authors of articles to analyse their material.

The result - according to Mike Heyworth, Deputy Director of the CBA, which is publishing the journal - will be a major new archaeological research tool, allowing readers to re-interrogate excavation evidence at their own computer terminal, apply their own hypotheses to the material and reach new conclusions.

Dr Heyworth said: `A lot of presentations of data, in print form, hide a prior manipulation of data which the reader doesn't normally know about. What we will allow is the possibility to strip all that away.'

An example of `hidden manipulation of data' can be found in geophysical survey diagrams - the diagrams of what lies below the ground produced by ground-penetrating survey equipment.

`What you often see in these diagrams is a picture not of the raw data, but of the data put through a filtering process to emphasise certain aspects of what lies below ground. The new journal will allow the reader to apply a different filtering process, and produce a different diagram. That would not be possible in print,' he said.

The journal is being set up by a consortium of the CBA, the British Academy and several universities, and will be based at York University. Its articles will be fully refereed, as in other journals, and it will not only contain far more information than a print journal, but will be cheaper to distribute and easier to browse. Instead of having to wade through every page, the reader will simply be able to call up subjects of interest by clicking a mouse.

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Rare listed pill-box faces demolition

One of the most unusual World War II pill-boxes in Britain, built as an extension to a listed building in Hertfordshire, and designed in a matching style, faces demolition later this year. The case underlines the importance and urgency of the Defence of Britain Project, launched by the Department of National Heritage and the CBA in April, which aims to record what little remains of Britain's fast-disappearing wartime buildings.

The pill-box, built over one of the entrances of the Great Hall at Merchant Taylor's School, near Rickmansworth, forms part of a Grade II-listed structure designed in a rare neo-Georgian/Swedish Modern style in 1931-33. The Great Hall and later pill-box were both made of specially-manufactured two-inch red bricks, and together form the largest building made of the bricks in Europe.

Merchant Taylor's School applied for listed building consent to demolish the pill-box on grounds of its condition, and permission was granted by Three Rivers District Council against the advice of its conservation officers. Hertfordshire County Council conducted its own survey of the pill-box and found it in `very good' condition.

The pill-box, which commands a wide view across the valley of the River Colne, formed part of London's outer ring of anti-invasion defences during World War II, according to John Hellis, Field Co-ordinator for the Defence of Britain Project. `We are losing pill-boxes all the time, but this one is not only unique, but also part of a very important line. I'm absolutely horrified it's being demolished,' he said.

Peter Powell, the school's architect, said the pill-box disrupted the symmetry of the Great Hall, was badly built and leaking, and allowed damp to enter the rest of the building. `We had to spend money either way, to restore it or remove it,' he said, `and the school committee felt the best way to spend money was to remove it.'

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In brief

Tewkesbury lost

An appeal against planning permission, granted last October, for 1,000 homes and a bypass on the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471) was lost in the High Court last month. The ruling was given on the very day English Heritage published the final version of its Battlefields Register, which is designed to protect 43 listed battlefields (including Tewkesbury) from development.

SMRs and PPG16

Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) need to be greatly improved, transferred to the responsibility of English Heritage, and perhaps placed on a statutory basis within planning law, according to a study by management consultants into the operation in England of PPG16 - the policy document that incorporated archaeology into the planning system in 1990.

The study, Review of the implementation of PPG16 Archaeology and Planning by Roger Tym & Partners and Pagoda Associates, published last month by English Heritage, has found that archaeology is now given `appropriate consideration' by nearly every planning authority; but that `insufficient progress' is being made `to establish an efficient system for managing SMR data at either a local or national level.' Information should be kept in graphical format, the study says, rather than in text format as at present.

In recommending a transfer of responsibilty for SMRs to English Heritage from the Royal Commission, the study reverses the recommendation of consultants KPMG made in the late 1980s.

Criminal skull

The skull of a young Anglo-Saxon woman, who may have been executed as a criminal, has been found in a large pit at a settlement at Cottam in Humberside. The 7th or 8th century skull, which was without a jaw and showed some signs of prolonged exposure, may have been displayed on a stake before it was placed in the pit. Excavations by Julian Richards of York University found a large number of frog and water-vole bones in the pit, suggesting that the pit became a pond before it was finally filled up with settlement refuse.

NEWS is compiled by Simon Denison.

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© Council for British Archaeology, 1995