Data from geophysical survey can reveal important insights without excavation

Submitted by Sammy Smith (


Artist’s rendering of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum during boom times, by Sue White, provided by the University of Nottingham to Science Daily.

In July 2009, Science Daily, an online news website, published an article about the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St. Edmund in Norfolk, England, describing the results of recent research conducted by archaeologists with the University of Nottingham

A recent high-resolution geophysical survey, which does not require excavation or other ground disturbance, revealed, according to the University of Nottingham:

the town’s water supply system (detecting the iron collars connecting wooden water pipes), and the series of public buildings including the baths, temples and forum, known from earlier excavations.

Nevertheless, among all these architectural features, the survey showed areas that had not been built up, and remained open. Thus, the dense urban area that previous researchers believed characterized this settlement was not discovered by the survey.

Unlike many Roman settlements in the British Isles, this one was abandoned in Medieval times, which means there is less superimposed construction and disturbance that alter the earlier occupation.


Google Earth satellite view of remains of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum.

Many archaeologists believe that, although geophysical surveys and other “black box” studies can reveal important information about subsurface remains without disturbing them, on balance they are no substitute for the detailed data than can be recovered by excavation.

What do you think?

More details on the archaeological project can be found here.

Where to find it