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The Past Life of Cressing Temple
What did the Romans ever do for us? The Romans invaded southern England in the year 43AD and made a great impact on East Anglia. Colchester became one of the major Roman towns, Camulodunum.
There were, of course some objectors and perhaps the most famous was Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni from Norfolk. In 60-61AD, she and her tribe swept down, sacking Camulodunum on their way to Londinium and it is thought that they passed through Witham with its Iron Age fortress on their way. Certainly, the local tribe, the Trinovantes joined her in her struggle against the invader.
This kind of unrest meant that defensive settlements had to be maintained. Years of fighting and uncertainty were countered by a raise in the standard of living brought by cultural exchange and economic change.
One of the first excavations carried out by the Essex County Council in 1988 was that of the car park road. This gave us evidence of a Romano-british community living in the top corner of Dovehouse Field. As well as finding two substantial parallel ditches, a number of post holes and some gravel surfaces, several other finds gave us an insight into their lifestyle. Well-made crockery, bronze cutlery, mortaria for preparing food and heavy, blackened pots for cooking. We found a quernstone for grinding corn and hone stones for sharpening knives and reaping hooks There was also an isolated burial of a baby in the ditch.
The new culture brought a system of barter based on minted coins whose design changed regularly with each emperor, making it easy to date when a coin is found. They also brought quality pottery, including samian, a type of fine, red table ware made to imitate bronze vessels. Elegant objects in bronze and iron were mass produced and foreign foods were imported in sealed vessels. Wine and oil came across the sea in amphorae and oysters were transported from the Colchester area.
The Roman presence made itself slowly felt at Cressing with the introduction of quality goods made in pottery and metal. The locals made attempts to copy these goods - some copies were good, others feeble. Their lifestyle did not change too radically. They still farmed and lived in roundhouses enclosed in a ditch and bank. However they moved the position of their village two hundred metres west of the first settlement and after a while decided it was not large enough so they filled in the ditch and spread out. However they still felt insecure and dug another ditch- it probably also helped with drainage.
By the fourth century AD they felt settled enough not to need the defensive ditch and they began to fill it with all their rubbish including several hundred well-made pottery vessels. They even built a small, square building.
We know that at nearby Kelvedon, known to the Romans as Canonium, a villa was built to administrate the area. There was no such grand house here at Cressing. Villas are signified by finding large roof and floor tiles, mosaic pieces, hypercaust flues for heating and stone and plasterwork. Here, there are only deep post-holes for timber buildings, perhaps continuing the roundhouse tradition. Courtyards were created by mettling with large stones and gravel from the nearby pits. Finally everything was buried with a layer of 'dark soil'.
We found little evidence around the village for burials and so it is likely that they had a cemetery or cremation field somewhere to the north outside of the current area of the farm. However, when the Walled Garden was excavated we found, in the lowest level the skeleton of a Romano-british man. He had been buried in a large grave and his head had been removed and carefully laid on his feet. On his finger was a simple copper ring and in the soil were some sherds of pottery and some animal bones.
On examination we could see that he had lived a hard, physical life which had left him crippled and deformed. His fingers were riddled with arthritis and a large bone growth on his shoulder blade must have locked his arm up. He had poor eyesight noted by porous eye sockets and problems with his teeth. A large abscess had grown through his cheek and it may have been this that he died of. Blood poisoning from bad teeth was one of the most common forms of death.