the Trust excavates Boudican destruction debris at Williams & Griffin site

Today (14th May), Trust director Philip made a site visit to our excavation inside the Williams & Griffin store in the High Street at Colchester, to see the Boudican destruction debris which has just been uncovered. The stratification on the site has become clearer now that we have removed all the robber-trenches on the site. The robber-trenches were post-Roman and they were dug to remove Roman building materials for re-use. The full sequence of Roman stratification has now been revealed, right down to the natural sand. There is a thick deposit of burnt debris, which represents the collapsed remains of a Roman building which was destroyed during the Boudican revolt in AD 60/1. This deposit is part of Colchester’s famous ‘Boudican destruction’ layer. We can see that this debris is lying on top of a burnt floor which is black with charcoal. The floor was made of the non-burnt remains of an earlier Roman, military building on the site, which must have been demolished in the AD 50s. By its location in the site of the Roman fortress, this building would have been the accommodation of a junior officer (a tribune) in the Roman army’s Twentieth Legion. The Twentieth Legion or Legio XX – ‘Legio vigesima Valeria Victrix’ – took part in the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43. They were stationed in Colchester until AD 49, when a colony of legionary veterans was established here.

The Boudican revolt of AD 60/1 was when the native Britons tried to revolt against the Roman occupation. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, they attacked three major Roman towns – Colchester (Camulodunum), London (Londinium) and St Albans (Verulamium) – and massacred their inhabitants and burned the towns to the ground. The Roman army brutally suppressed the revolt and Britain remained part of the Roman empire. Boudican destruction debris has only been positively identified in those three towns in Britain, so it is always exciting to excavate it here.

The Trust has excavated Boudican destruction debris all over the town centre. On average, the destruction layer is between roughly 25 and 40 cm thick although, in some places,¬†only the evidence of burnt floors survives. In Queen Street, the destruction layer is over a metre thick and here, on this Williams & Griffin site, the layer is of the average thickness. The town’s Boudican destruction layer has produced many poignant burnt and smashed finds, such as the remains of a bed and bedding, a bag of charred dates, a broken spear, and pottery – however, we have not yet found any human remains in the destruction layer. The Boudican destruction layer provides a kind of snapshot of Colchester in AD 60/1, and it represents our own mini version of Pompeii…

The excavations at the Williams & Griffin store are being funded by Fenwick Ltd.

The images show: the site today; the side of a trench cut through the Boudican destruction debris (the debris is red and black because it was burned by fire, and it consists of the remains of a burnt and crushed wall which are all jumbled up); and the wall stumps and floors of a Roman house which the Trust excavated in the 1970s on the Culver Street site in Colchester, and which had been destroyed during the Boudican revolt (image from the Trust’s popular book City of Victory – the story of Colchester, Britain’s first Roman town).

 

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W&G Boudican z

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Boudican floor z

 

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