Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009.11.26

Version at BMCR home site
Stephen Trow, Simon James, Tom Moore, Becoming Roman, Being Gallic, Staying British: Research and Excavations at Ditches 'Hillfort' and Villa 1984-2006. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2008. Pp. xv, 224. ISBN 9781842173367. $40.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Geoff W. Adams, University of Tasmania

[Table of Contents at the end of the review.]

The overall intention of this book is to outline the nature of the site at the Ditches 'hill-fort' and to publish a comprehensive account of the finds that have been uncovered between 1984-2006. This site from Gloucestershire is a key complex for those scholars considering the earliest stages of the Roman occupation and the question surrounding the gradual development/integration of 'Roman' culture within a wider cultural context. The main reason for the importance of this site is the period of habitation [1st-2nd Century CE], which seemingly is significantly earlier than the vast majority of Romano-British villa complexes in the region [mostly 3rd-4th Century CE].1 In general terms, this is an effective excavation report, which not only highlights the significance of the site but also outlines the authors' intentions for their text. There is effective use of descriptions of the various features, which are complemented by a good range of maps, illustrations and photographs.

This is a useful text, but it is evident that the primary emphasis is upon providing a clear account of the site rather than deeply engaging with the wider discussion surrounding the questions of Romanisation and acculturation in the province of Roman Britain2 (see below). Some further examination of this significant question could have been useful, particularly because of the pivotal nature of the site in this regard. This does not undermine its inherent value as a source of information, but the most confusing aspect of this work is the prominence of the Gallic aspect within the title and in some of the overall discussions. This appears to be more of a selective interpretative aspect that is not explicitly supported by the archaeological remains from the site. All the same, the vast majority of the analysis is generally quite cautious in its conclusions, which is seemingly advisable because of the general degradation of the site. The initial sections of the text also provide a useful amount of contextualisation of the site for readers who may not be familiar with it rather than a broader investigation of the local region.

The 1984-1985 excavations (7-36) are outlined in the next chapter, which includes good images that provide a clear understanding of its primary features. This section largely focuses upon outlining the progression of the excavations during the 1980s, which consists progressively of a detailed analysis of the finds within a rather tight time-frame. The habitation period for the site is quite complicated in its gradual evolution, but it seems that a good break-down of occupation time periods is achievable. This is particularly important for the late Iron Age/Romano-British period, which appears to have extended to the late 2nd Century CE.3 The analysis of the site itself is well-constructed and clearly illustrates the care that Trow, James and Moore have taken. The modern preservation of the Ditches 'hill-fort' site (37-38) is also outlined, which provides further contextualisation for the ensuing analysis of the finds. This is important to note because it illustrates the difficulty presented by the conflict between agriculture and archaeology at this location. While this does not seem to have been as much of an issue since its preservation was assured in 1988, it has clearly had an impact upon the state of the remains presented within the current text. Nevertheless, the habitation sequence presented at the Ditches 'hill-fort' and villa complex provides a key for our understanding of early Roman Britain.

The geophysical survey of the Ditches 'hill-fort' and villa complex (39-44) is another useful form of analysis for the site, which supplements the previous excavations and allows for broader consideration. The survey examines the features beyond the confines of the 'hill-fort' and raises questions about the defensive capacity of the Iron Age structure. However, these questions about its intended function are presented in a suitably cautious fashion. While some further extension of the investigation of the site could have been made, it is evident that Moore was more intent upon presenting the material in such a fashion that the information obtained from this surveying process would be the primary focus rather than speculation.

The broader discussion of the excavations (45-75) is a key section of the text, which naturally focuses primarily upon the overall interpretation of the site. The chronological implications of the Ditches 'hill-fort' are initially examined, which suitably establishes the benefits and difficulties in this analysis. The Iron Age enclosure (45-51) continues the cautious approach of the authors, but some expansion of the other comparative examples used could have provided a wider contextualisation for the site. The analysis of the villa complex (51-71) acknowledges that this site "is at present exceptional" and yet an attempt is made to present this residence as a symbol of wider villa culture, which seems somewhat problematic to this reviewer. When analysing Romanised villa complexes it is difficult to generalise because of the wide range of designs and intended lifestyles at each complex in different time periods.4

This becomes more apparent in the study of the design of the structure at the Ditches, with which more could have been because of this complexity. The introduction of the parallels with Gallic villa structures does not seem entirely justifiable on the basis of the evidence presented (53), but this seems to be a result of the authors' focus on Gallic-British contacts. Likewise, the discussion of the implications for urban parallels (59) could be developed further as well, but this is indicative of the limited consideration given to the question of Romanisation and a possible acculturation process (67). Further consideration of 'native' habitation processes could have also been included, but this also appears to go beyond the authors' intent. All the same, despite these apparent limitations, it must be noted that the interpretation of such sites is always going to lend itself to divergences of opinion, so this should not be taken as a sign of any inadequacy within the text itself.

The listed finds (76-209) constitute the bulk of the excavation report and are intended to not only document the materials from the site, but also to provide the evidence for its archaeological analysis. The finds are divided into an assortment of sections, such as the various types of pottery, brooches, and Iron Age coinage, but there is also discussion of some notable singular finds, such as a Claudian provincial coin issue, an iron finger ring, and a lead/lead alloy snake bracelet. Each of these sections has different authors, such as Richard Reece (Roman Coins), Catherine Johns (Pipeclay Figurines), Martin Henig (the Iron Finger Ring) and Colin Haselgrove (Iron Age Coins). These portions are well-illustrated and well set out, and take advantage of the particular specialities of the authors, which complements the overall structure of the book in their detailed presentation of the material. But in general terms, these finds simply confirm the inherent value of this text as a source of information on a key archaeological site from southern Britain. The Ditches 'hill-fort' and villa complex provides a unique opportunity to consider the question of 'elite' habitation patterns during the 1st-2nd Century CE, and this welcome publication will certainly provide the further development of research in this field of research.

Table of Contents:

THE EXCAVATIONS
Introduction
The 1984-5 Excavations
Preservation of the villa (Stephen Trow)
Geophysical survey (Tom Moore)
Discussion of the Iron Age and Roman remains (Stephen Trow, Simon James and Tom Moore)

THE FINDS
Gallo-Belgic and local finewares (Val Rigby)
The Samian (Steven Eillis)
The Coarseware pottery (Tom Moore)
Brooches (Don Mackreth)
Iron Age coins (Colin Haselgrove)
Roman coins (Richard Reece)
Claudian provincial coin (Robert Kenyon)
An Iron finger-ring (Marvin Henig)
Pipeclay figurines (Catberine Johns)
Glass (John Shepherd)
The touchstone (Stephen Trow, with Andrew Middleton and David Moore)
Worked stone (Fiona Roe)
Worked bone (Stephen Trow)
Lead/lead alloy snake bracelet (Catherine Johns)
Finds of lead alloy (Stephen Trow)
Finds of copper alloy (Stephen Trow)
Finds of iron (Stephen Trow)
Carpentry nails (Stephen Trow)
Finds of baked clay (Stephen Trow and Tom Moore)
Wall plaster (Tom Moore)
Marine mollusc shells (Stephen Trow and Tom Moore)
Human remains (Kirsi Lorentz and Tom Moore)
The charred plant remains (Jacqueline P. Huntley)
Animal bone (Kevin Rielly)


Notes:


1.   Smith, J.T., 1997, Roman Villas: a Study in Social Structure, Routledge: London; Branigan, K., 1976, The Roman Villa in South-West England, Moonraker: Bradford-on-Avon.
2.   Clarke, S., 1996, "Acculturation and continuity: re-assessing the significance of Romanization in the hinterlands of Gloucester and Cirencester", in Webster, J. and Cooper, N.J. (eds.), Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives, Leicester Archaeology Monographs: Leicester; Hingley, R., 1996, "The 'legacy' of Rome: the rise, decline, and fall of the theory of Romanization", in Webster, J. and Cooper, N.J. (eds.), Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives, Leicester Archaeology Monographs: Leicester.
3.   Trow, S. and James, S., 1989, "Ditches Villa, North Cerney: An example of locational conservatism in the early Roman Cotswolds", in Branigan, K. and Miles, D. (eds.), The Economies of Romano-British Villas, J.R. Collis: Sheffield.
4.   Adams, G.W., 2009, Power and Religious Acculturation in Romano-Celtic Society: an examination of archaeological sites in Gloucestershire, Archaeopress: Oxford.

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