Geophysics hoped to uncover secrets of Branodunum

Published : 20 Nov 2017 Last update : 21 Nov 2017

Five years ago we had the exciting opportunity to host Time Team at Branodunum in Norfolk, the site of a 2000 year old Roman fort. Now the investigation continues, as we extend the geophysics survey to uncover more of its secrets.

Branodunum the Roman Fort 

Located just outside of the village of Brancaster, the fort at Branodunum dates back to around 2nd century AD and has been in the care of the National Trust since 1967. 

Branodunum was one of 10 Saxon Shore forts around the coast of southern England, they were built to defend the country from raiders from Germany and to form protected places for traders. It’s hard to imagine now, but in Roman times the forts northern wall would have been directly next to the shoreline and naval and trading ships would have been drawn up on a sandy beach where there is now saltmarsh. 

So what did Time Team reveal on their last visit?

Although the archaeological importance of the fort is well known, only very small excavations had ever happened here before. When Time Team visited in 2012, it resulted in unparalleled insights into the lives of a Roman garrison stationed here 2,000 years ago.

Time Team Dig at Branodunum, Norfolk. August 2012
a digger surrounded by piles of soil digging trenches for time team at Branodunum roman fort
Time Team Dig at Branodunum, Norfolk. August 2012

They carried out geophysical surveys and exploratory trenches in the most thorough survey of the fort ever held, which included ground penetrating radar on an area just under a hectare within the known footprint of the fort. 

Despite covering such a small area, the detail the survey revealed was remarkable, showing the layout of buildings and streets in un-paralleled detail. We saw the site in a way we never had before!

Annotated GeoPhys results from the Branodunum Time Team dig in 2012
five black and white images of geophys results from the 2012 time team dig in 2012. It is annotated to explain certain features uncovered
Annotated GeoPhys results from the Branodunum Time Team dig in 2012

As a result of the surveys, several previously-unknown buildings inside the fort were discovered, including huge granaries, barrack blocks for the soldiers and a possible horse training arena. The fort headquarters was located and an excavation of part of the strong room found fragments of Roman cavalry scale armour. The excavation by Time Team involved up to 70 people and was carried out with Historic England, the National Trust and Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment Service.

Roman pottery depicting two people boxing dug up at Branodunum during the Time Team dig in 2012
red coloured Roman pottery dug up at Branodunum depicting two people boxing
Roman pottery depicting two people boxing dug up at Branodunum during the Time Team dig in 2012

Now we’re excited to learn more

We have always wished to complete the radar survey for the whole fort, to give us a really deep knowledge and understanding of this and other forts of the Saxon Shore. By knowing exactly what is underground in great detail, we will be better placed to understand the significance of the site, to share this with our visitors and contribute to our conservation of the Roman archaeology here. 

Therefore we’re really pleased that Dr John Gater of Sumo Survey Services, who last visited with Time Team, will be returning and extending the survey to the fort field this November. Alongside this the Sumo team will carry out a micro ground-survey of the site from a drone, this modelling will build up an image of what the contours of the site are today.

Our hope for the future

Today, Branodunum sits in a series of open fields. The fort and its civilian settlement is still visible as earthworks on the ground and as cropmarks in aerial photographs. The amazing images from the radar survey reveal much more of what is hidden under the grass. Sadly the walls of the fort, which once stood to their full height, were cleared away in the 18th century to build buildings in the village, but this new work will let us imagine what it would have been like to have walked through this once bustling military base.
Currently, the underlying archaeology is preserved by the grass. We hope over time we’ll be able to interpret this site in more detail and bring this fort’s story back to life. 

Time Team visit Branodunum, August 2012
a group of people standing smiling at the camera with a digger in the background
Time Team visit Branodunum, August 2012