famous Roman Colchester oysters

On Saturday (12th October), senior Trust archaeologist Howard Brooks was filmed by a Japanese film crew in front of Colchester Castle and the Roman town wall at Balkerne Gate. The film crew are making a documentary about seafood, sponsored by a Japanese sushi company. They filmed Howard talking about the Roman history of oysters.

Colchester is, of course, famous for the farmed oysters which are dredged up from the river at Mersea and which also used to be dredged up from the river at Brightlingsea. In the Roman empire and for several centuries after, oysters were a food staple and a vital resource, whereas now they are a luxury item. The historic annual ‘oyster feast’ is still held at Colchester Town Hall to celebrate the start of the oyster season.

There are other sites around Britain and the Roman empire which produced oysters, and many sites where Roman and later dumps of oyster shells have been found. Oysters were another resource which the Romans invaded Britain to exploit, along with slaves and silver.

The Trust has excavated tons of oyster shells in Colchester and at other occupation sites. For example, we discovered a huge Roman dump of oyster shells outside the Balkerne Gate in the mid 1970s, on the line of the main Roman road to London, which had apparently been the site of a roadside stall selling oysters to passers-by. Recently we excavated a much smaller Roman dump of oyster shells at the former garrison, which indicated the domestic consumption of a small occupation site. We find lots of oyster shells, which indicates the scale of their consumption over several centuries.

The image shows Howard being filmed near the Balkerne Gate on Saturday (with thanks to the crew and to one crew-member for taking the photograph).


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