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Coins find prompts dig to uncover Roman settlement

Excavations to uncover what is believed to be a major Roman town in the heart of South Devon are set to take place this summer. 

The major archaeological dig is planned for rural Teignbridge, on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, after a chance find of ancient coins by metal detector enthusiast Geoff Fox and his friend Shaun Pitts led to the discovery of the largest Roman settlement ever found in Devon. 

The month-long excavation work in August will be led by Danielle Wootton, the finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologist at the University of Exeter, and the university's Roman archaeology specialist Dr Ioana Oltean. 

The dig will be funded by the university, Devon County Council and international environment charity Earthwatch. 

There have been long-held suspicions that the Romans had established a presence in South Devon, and place names suggest the A381 between Totnes and Newton Abbot may have been a Roman road. 

Archaeological investigations in 2007 discovered evidence of Romano-British activity in the form of pottery, coins and other objects. 

The intrigue escalated in 2009 when Mr Fox and Mr Pitts — using metal detectors — discovered a haul of 243 Roman coins, dating from AD 330 to 378, in woodland. 

Ms Wootton was called on to carry out a trial excavation on the site last June. A geophysical survey also uncovered evidence of trade with Europe, a road possibly linking to the major settlement at Exeter, some 'intriguing' structures, burial sites and more coins on an area covering at least 13 fields. 

It was always thought Roman influence never made it further than Exeter and there was little evidence of Romans in the South West Peninsula. 

A county council spokesman said: "We believe this newly-discovered Romano-British rural settlement has the potential to reveal significant evidence of this period of Devon's ancient history. 

"Although there are a lot of known archaeological sites associated with the Roman conquest of Devon and subsequent civil rule, there have been relatively few extensive, modern excavations of military or civil sites outside Exeter." 

Mr Fox said: "I am blown away by this. I feel like I've put a piece of a puzzle in place. I am over the moon to have helped map South Devon's past." 

Source: This is Devon [June 20, 2012]

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