Community archaeology as 'citizen science': embedding research into a regional heritage agenda
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Geology
History and Archaeology: Archaeology
Summary of the impact
The Caistor Roman Town Project has transformed understanding of one of
East Anglia's most significant archaeological sites and has informed the
management strategies of the site's principal stakeholders (South Norfolk
Council, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Museums Service and the Norfolk
Archaeological Trust) in relation to presentation and interpretation. The
project epitomises `citizen science', engendering sustained community
involvement in archaeological research (c. 230 volunteers
contributing over 35,000 hours), including the establishment of a charity
that has enabled the volunteers to develop and support further community
archaeology initiatives in the region. More than 15,000 visitors to
excavations over 12 weeks and widespread coverage through internet, print
news and television have broadened international understanding of
archaeology and the site.
The research is focused upon the remains of Venta Icenorum
(Caistor St. Edmund) in Norfolk. Although Caistor is one of only 3 Roman
regional capitals in Britain that do not lie beneath later settlements,
the site did not see major excavation in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Since 2006 the results of the Caistor project have radically changed our
understanding of the chronology, development and nature of Venta
Icenorum, and the ways in which the region's inhabitants responded
to the introduction of urbanism. This has wider implications for our
understanding of the relationship between Rome and the peoples of its
provinces. In particular the research is beginning to show that the local
population played an active role in adapting the urban form to reflect
their own needs and aspirations.
The project has been at the forefront of using cart-mounted Caesium
Vapour magnetometry for large-scale rapid capture of geophysical data. To
date geophysical survey has covered 52 hectares and has produced a
complete plan of the entire Roman town and its environs (3.5; 3.6),
providing evidence of a palimpsest of multi-period occupation, which has
been tested through excavation (3.1; 3.2). The project has also used
innovative combinations of core samples, magnetometry and deposit
modelling through Electrical Resistivity Tomography to model the changing
riverine context of the Roman town. In addition the project has also
pioneered techniques of studying site history through examination of
off-site traces of historic pollution, using chemical samples from flood
plain cores dated by AMS radiocarbon dating.
The project has included 4 major excavation seasons at Caistor itself,
together with trial excavations at an outlying site (3.4). The excavations
(funded by the British Academy) have targeted features identified by the
geophysical survey and have been used to refine the survey data (3.3). Key
findings have included redating the street grid, the identification of a
possible timber forum and the confirmation of middle Saxon settlement at
the town. An accompanying field survey project has covered over 500
hectares of land around the site, locating a number of new sites.
The project is led by the PI (Bowden - UoN) assisted by Dr David Bescoby
(UoN/University of East Anglia) who has carried out the geophysical and
environmental surveys. The field survey is overseen by the PI but is run
entirely by the project's local volunteers, who are divided into 6 teams
based on their times of availability. Excavations are directed by the PI,
while other members of the Dept. of Archaeology collaborate in aspects of
the research. This includes the study of human, faunal and botanical
remains by post-graduate students to the mutual benefit of both students
and project, and ceramic studies carried out by Gwladys Monteil (formerly
Leverhulme post-doctoral fellow in the department). The volunteers' active
co-production of the research findings gives the articles in section 3
dual status as academic outputs and as elements of the impact in their own
References to the research
3.1 BOWDEN W. 2013a. "The urban plan of Venta Icenorum and its
relationship with the Boudican revolt", Britannia (Listed in REF
2; leading journal on the archaeology of Roman Britain).
3.2 BOWDEN, W. 2013b "Townscape and identity at Caistor-by-Norwich", in
Eckardt, H and Rippon, S. (eds) 2013. Living and working in the Roman
world. Essays in honour of Michael Fulford on his 65th
birthday. JRA Suppl. Ser. 95. (Portsmouth, R.I), 47-62 (Available on
request; prestigious Festschrift article).
3.3 BESCOBY, D. and BOWDEN, W. 2013. "The detection and mapping of Saxon
sunken-featured buildings at Caistor St Edmund", Archaeological
Prospection 20(1), 53-57
leading international journal on archaeological survey methodology and
3.4 BOWDEN, W., 2011. "Architectural innovation in the land of the Iceni:
a new complex near Venta Icenorum (Norfolk)", Journal of Roman
Archaeology. 24, 382-388 (Available on request; leading
international journal on Roman archaeology).
3.5 BESCOBY, D., BOWDEN, W. and CHROSTON, P. N., 2009. Magnetic survey at
Venta Icenorum, Caistor St Edmund: Survey strategies and initial results,
Archaeological Prospection 16(4), 287-291. (DOI: 10.1002/arp.363;
leading international journal on archaeological survey methodology and
3.6 BOWDEN, W. and BESCOBY D., 2008. The plan of Venta Icenorum
(Caistor-by-Norwich): interpreting a new geophysical survey. Journal
of Roman Archaeology, 21, 325-334 (Listed in REF 2; leading
international journal on Roman archaeology).
Details of the impact
The pathway to impact in this case study has two strands. The first
strand relates to the co- production of the research during the
excavations at Caistor, with Bowden and Bescoby providing the technical,
scholarly and methodological framework, and volunteers participating in
the excavations and the creation of research data. As such, the research
(and the processes that underpin it) is a primary impact outcome,
equipping the community of volunteers with new skills and providing
valuable personal and professional experience. The second strand relates
to the concomitant high public profile of the project (supported by media
and public engagement activity) which has highlighted its value to a range
of policy makers whose remit encompasses heritage management. This has
been recognised in the embedding of the project in their development
Community archaeology as citizen science — co-producing knowledge and
The co-production of knowledge is at the heart of citizen science: From
its inception in 2006, the Caistor Project has been designed and executed
in a way that has directly linked the research process and results with a
range of user communities and organisations. Their work has contributed to
the advancement of knowledge, and in turn they have developed skills
and experience that have sometimes been of a transformative nature.
To-date over 200 volunteers from the Norfolk community (of which around
100 are actively involved in the research at any time), have contributed
35,000 hours to the research programme. Coming from a range of
backgrounds, from lawyers to builders, the volunteers form the bulk of the
excavation and finds processing team, undertaking an extensive regional
field survey project between autumn and spring. The survey constitutes a
significant research initiative that could not be carried out without
community involvement and the relationship between the project and Norfolk
County Council (NCC). The volunteers' work is explicitly acknowledged in
the outputs in section 3.
The impact of their involvement on volunteers ranges from the
emotional: `I found my very first (and only) Roman coin and I can still
recall the elation I felt at finding and holding in my hand something that
had last been in the hand of a Roman so many years ago', to the
professional and practical: `It has been very beneficial for me, in terms
of career development and improving my skill-set'. Many participants also
highly value the social element of their involvement in the project (5.1).
Through the establishment of a charity (Caistor Roman Project Ltd (CRP))
in 2009, of which Bowden is a Trustee, a sustainable future for the
volunteer group is being secured. The charity has already supported
volunteers in using their new skills and experience to undertake further
community activity including running events for the Young Archaeologists
Club, using the Caistor project's methodologies to develop their own
community research projects and advising other community groups on setting
up archaeological research projects (5.1). The project's value to the
Sustainable Community Strategy 2008-18 of the South Norfolk Alliance
(local Strategic Partnership for South Norfolk comprising statutory,
voluntary, community and business organisations) was recognised in the
Alliance's funding of the volunteer programme and public outreach
programme for 2010-2011.
Adding to the public understanding of history and the environment
In addition to the new knowledge and skills developed by volunteers
participating in the project, there has also been a focus on sharing the
research results with a wider public through broadcast and social media
and public talks and thus contributing to a wider public understanding
both of archaeology and of Roman history: The project was the focus
of a Channel 4 Time Team special in 2011 which received 2,321,000
viewers on its first showing and has been regularly repeated since. It
also formed a major component in an episode of BBC's The Flying
Archaeologist, viewed by 723,000 on its first showing (06.05.12)
(with 43,000 i-player viewings in the following week). The project
maintains a strong media profile, featuring on BBC Radio 4, BBC Look East,
ITV Anglia, Radio Norfolk, Radio Nottingham, and in the Eastern Daily
Press and other local print media within the assessment period.
Reporting by livescience.com of the findings published in Bowden 2011 was
picked up by multiple internet newsfeeds including discovery.com, msn.com,
dailymail.co.uk and the Huffington Post and was subsequently reposted in
multiple internet fora, including three audience-generated Youtube videos,
demonstrating sustained public engagement with the research (5.2).
The excavations were open to the public 7 days a week, resulting in
15,000 visitors over 12 weeks in 2009- 2012. Visitors were provided with a
site guide and an exhibition (sponsored by the Foyle Foundation) while
excavations are explained by project volunteers. Activities were also run
for visiting school parties together with workshops for volunteers in
ceramic studies and faunal remains (run by post-graduates from the Dept.
of Archaeology). In 2011 two activity days were run in conjunction with
the BBC's Hands-on History project and these were repeated in
2012. The success of these events encouraged South Norfolk Council to
revive its own Caistor Family Day in 2013. Bowden has done c. 35
lectures to the public/local societies (ranging from BBC Hands-on History
events to the Algarve Archaeological Society) reaching an estimated 2200
people (5.3). A YouTube video about the project has been viewed over
72,000 times (63 likes and 52 comments) (5.2).
The scale of this media and public engagement with the research project
represents a significant contribution to enhanced cultural
understanding of archaeology and its methods, and of (Roman) history.
Informing and influencing heritage management strategies
The Norfolk Archaeological Trust's Ten-Year Site Management Plan (2013-23)
for Caistor noted that "the project's research has transformed our
understanding of Venta Icenorum and its suburbs, both for the
Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods" (5.4). This changed understanding and the
associated media and public engagement have been significant drivers in
the project's partner organisations' subsequent development of revised
management strategies towards the site, which are in turn factors in the improved
management and conservation of cultural heritage. The Norfolk
Archaeological Trust (site owners), Norfolk County Council's Historic
Environment Service (HES), South Norfolk Council (who manage public access
to the site), Norfolk Museums Service and English Heritage have all used
the results of the project in the development of management strategies
towards the Roman town. Examples include:
- The NAT Ten-Year Site Management Plan for Caistor (2013-23) in which
the project results will form the basis for an entirely new
interpretation scheme for the Roman town. In 2013-14 this will include
new interpretation panels (funded by Natural England) and a new
guidebook (funded by the Trust) (5.4).
- The research contributed to English Heritage's decision to
significantly extend the area protected as part of the Scheduled
- Norfolk HES uses the results of the project to inform management
strategies towards the site and its surrounding landscape (5.6).
Project results have informed new content for tourists, thereby enriching
the tourist experience: a revised display relating to the site at
Norwich Castle Museum has been visited by up to 180,000 people per annum
since 2009, while Project volunteers have carried out extensive work on
early archives relating to the site held by the Museum, resulting in this
archive material being put on display to the public for the first time.
The research also informed a mobile-phone tour of the site trialled by
South Norfolk Council in 2008-10. The increased public profile of the site
resulting from the project has also resulted in greater visitor
numbers and greater use of one of the most significant green spaces
in South Norfolk Council's portfolio (5.7 & 5.8). The increased uptake
of heritage resources by tourists described here has tangible economic
and prestige benefits to the sites, and also serves to further the
public engagement mission of the Caistor project by extending its reach.
Contributing to the wider preservation of cultural heritage
The project's public engagement activity has helped partner
organisations to secure further funding, thereby contributing to the
wider preservation of public cultural heritage: The project was
specifically referenced by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust in its
successful 2011 application to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for
emergency funds (c. £380,000) to purchase an additional 60 acres of the
archaeological site (5.9). The application cited the public benefit
evidenced by volunteer involvement with the Caistor project, visitor
numbers to the excavations and the transformation in understanding of the
site through the research. Similarly, the research and outreach value of
the project were also cited by Norfolk's HES service in support of a
successful bid to English Heritage to extend the National Mapping
Programme (digitising all crop-mark data for the region) (5.10).
Sources to corroborate the impact
Local authority involvement
5.1 Caistor User Survey 2013 (including information about follow-on
projects undertaken by volunteers) (available on file).
5.2 Caistor Media Engagement Report (available on file).
5.3 Table listing presentations to the community and project partners
(available on file).
5.4 The Norfolk Archaeological Trust Ten-Year Site Management Plan
(2013-23) (available on file).
5.5 Factual statement from East of England Inspector, English Heritage
corroborating English Heritage's decision to significantly extend the area
protected as part of the Scheduled Monument.
5.6 Factual statement from County Archaeologist, Norfolk County Council
corroborating claim that the results of the project support NCC management
strategies for the site and region.
5.7 Factual statement from South Norfolk Council to corroborate the claim
that the increased public profile of the site resulting from the project
(see below) has also resulted in greater visitor numbers.
5.8 Factual statement from Caistor Parish Council to corroborate claim of
raised profile and visitor numbers and value to the local community.
5.9 Application to the National Heritage Memorial Fund from the Norfolk
Archaeological Trust (available on file).
5.10 Application to English Heritage National Mapping Programme citing
partnership with Caistor project (available on file)