A Recap of Culver

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The Roman Road : Credit Culver Project

For the last seven years the Culver Archaeological Project (CAP), under director Rob Wallace, has been investigating the historical environment of the Upper Ouse Valley in the parishes of Barcombe and Ringmer.

In 2005 Rob had discovered a substantial Roman road running to the east of the Barcombe villa complex, heading north east through the fields of Culver Farm, where CAP’s subsequent fieldwork has been undertaken (Fig 1).


In 2005-6 a series of evaluation trenches were dug in Pond Field and its northern neighbour Culver Mead which established the existence and bearing of the road as well as showing roadside activity. In 2007 a larger open area excavation in Pond Field exposed 20m of the road together with an area each side which showed clearly the substantial nature of the road and the intensity of the roadside industrial activity. This area was targeted again in 2010.

Fig. 1 Map of Culver Farm showing the main features and field locations

In 2009 the main emphasis moved to the south west, to Court House Field, where 50m of closely packed flint road foundations some 400mm deep were uncovered (Fig 2). The area chosen was over a discernible kink in the road noticed from the previous year’s geophysics results.

Whilst a fine section of road was exposed and recorded the reason for the changes of direction was not altogether clear, although a series of crossing palæo-channels might have made this area unstable.

Fig 2. The section of Roman road exposed in 2009

Seven years digging had produced over 6000 sherds of pottery that needed specialist analysis and reporting. A substantial Margary Grant from the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS), plus a smaller sum from the University of Sussex Archaeology Society (USAS), allowed the project to employ Malcolm Lyne to undertake the analysis. Malcolm was the ideal choice as an acknowledged expert on Roman pottery in the area he could coordinate the Culver assemblage with that of his own classification of pottery fabrics for the Barcombe villa.

He concluded that nearly all the Roman pottery from Culver was of 3rd to early 4th century date. Over 93 % of the sherds came from the excavations in Pond Field with only 382 from Culver Mead and just 19 from the excavation in Court House Field, which unlike the fields to the north showed no road side settlement. 71 different fabrics were present, 29 coarse, 34 fine, 5 mortaria and 3 of amphora.

The trenches in Culver Mead in 2006 had revealed 3 water-logged timbers that were radiocarbon dated to c. cal AD240-430 and Malcolm’s report similarly confirms the pottery assemblage to AD250-400. He also highlights a fragment of a lamp or chimney similar to an example from the triangular temple at Verulamium (Lyne 2012).

Fig 3. Moselkeramik carafe rim from Arlon

The bulk of the Pond Field assemblages were of handmade local East Sussex Wares with the largest derivable amount coming from the nearby Wickham Barn kilns. Other British coarsewares were represented including Alice Holt greyware. The finewares included fragments of beakers in Colchester colour-coat, Oxford red colour-coat, Lower Nene Valley and New Forest. The Samian included both Central and Eastern Gaulish products (Lyne 2012).

One of the most interesting sherds was part of the rim of a late 3rd century carafe in a metallic black colour-coat ware from the Arlon kilns in Lorraine Belge (Fig 3); a very unusual product to find anywhere in Britain (Lyne 2012).

Whilst the road undoubtedly had a far longer period of use, as indicated by the Flavius Honorius silver Siliqua of AD395-402 (Fig 4) found in the corner of Court House Field, the main period of roadside activity in Pond Field would seem to fall into the later 3rd to early 4th century.

This presumes that the Samian and some other finer wares were already old, possibly handed-down, items and date from prior to the period of lower class working activity at the site. Two exceptions would seem to be a small pit by the north west baulk of the excavation which contained an assemblage of 34 sherds dated to the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries and a clay lined pit, also located to the west of the road, which contained pottery dating to mid or even later 4th century. A subsequent magnetometer survey has revealed interesting anomalies to the west of these features which deserve further investigation.

Fig 4. Scan of the Flavius Honorius silver Siliqua (D. Millum)

An important aspect of the investigations undertaken by CAP has been the use of geophysical surveys both using electrical resistance and magnetic variation techniques to produce images of the subterranean features. These have been particularly useful in tracing the route of the Roman road and suggesting areas of roadside activity. Major surveys in 2008 and 2011 have highlighted some interesting areas for future excavation as well as suggesting that not all Roman roads are perfectly straight (Fig 5).

A great deal of interpretation is still needed to integrate this new information into the excavation reports which are currently under production but the financial assistance of SAS & USAS has allowed an early completion of these documents to become a real possibility.

Reproduced with kind permission from the Culver Project – http://culverproject.co.uk

Written by Rob Wallace

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