Southern Connector Road archaeology

Why are we digging?

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Why are we digging?

Map of Southern Connector Road archaeology project investigation areasInvestigation areas along the route

Headland Archaeology, on behalf of Swindon Borough Council, have been working in the fields east of Swindon, uncovering what life was like in the past for the people who once lived there.

The site is currently being prepared for the construction of the new Swindon Southern Connector Road, which will provide access for the future Swindon New Eastern Villages. But before construction can begin on the road, investigations need to be carried out to ensure that all archaeological remains are fully taken into account in the design of the scheme. The scope of these investigations was agreed by the Swindon Borough Council as planning authority, supported by their archaeological advisor – the Wiltshire County Archaeologist. The county archaeologist ensures that the impact to known archaeology is minimised, and any archaeology encountered during the works is excavated and recorded according to agreed practices, guidance and the agreed mitigation strategy for the scheme.  

Rich in archaeology

The area to the east of Swindon is rich in archaeology stretching back thousands of years, the most well-known site being the Romano-British town of Durocornovium, which is situated to the east of Covingham.  

Durocornovium originated in the mid-1st century AD (around the year 500) and sat on the Roman road which ran between Cirencester (Corinium Dubunnorum) and Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum). Archaeologists have known about the town since at least the 17th Century and excavations in the 1960s and 1970s revealed buildings and road surfaces complete with wagon ruts, as well as several artefacts such as coins, brooches, and pottery.

Surveying the land

Photo of a magnetometer survey for the Southern Connector Road archaeology projectMagnetometer survey in progress

The Southern Connector Road has been carefully designed to avoid dense areas of known archaeology, such as Durocornovium. However, archaeology in all its forms cannot always be avoided entirely. One reason being that sometimes there aren’t any indicators of what might be below the soil, until it is removed. In many instances, the county archaeologist will request that a geophysical survey is carried out before any work is planned which can help to identify areas of less dense archaeology.  

A geophysical survey is a non-invasive technique to see what ‘features’ might be present. This involves the use of equipment such as a magnetometer – which sends magnetic waves into the ground. The signal that bounces back can give us an indication of the density of objects below. The signal responses are printed out as a plan (see geophysics plan image), and these are analysed for what we call ‘trends’ i.e., shapes that form similar patterns to archaeology that has been encountered in other excavations.

Southern Connector Road archaeology - Geophysics
Geophysics plan

However! Geophysics doesn’t only identify archaeology. It can identify anything under the ground giving a signal and some things can interfere with the signal or stop the signal from penetrating deep enough. Ground conditions such as waterlogged areas and areas of very high bedrock can also be a problem. So, in some instances we can still encounter archaeology, and we need to dig test trenches to understand whether the features identified through the survey are archaeological. 

A find!

The fields around the Southern Connector Road were subject to very thorough geophysical surveys prior to any investigation. After this, the area was subject to test trenches to evaluate the geophysics results and plan the best route for the road - to cause the least impact on the archaeological remains. 

Despite this process, some archaeology in the form of two Roman farms was encountered, so Headland Archaeology have been recording and investigating to ensure we understand as much as we can about the archaeology before any construction begins. This will allow us to find out more about the areas around Durocornovium – and more about the people that built, lived, and even died there, without disturbing the centre of the town – which is now a Scheduled Monument. It will also help us to understand life on the fringes of the town, which historically wasn’t the focus of investigations, and so are often less well understood today.

Join us for the next few weeks where we will be sharing more about the archaeology that has been encountered on the route, as well as more about the process of archaeological investigations in the UK!

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