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Totnes Hoard

The discovery of several muddy coins in the Devon paddock by a pair of enthusiastic amateur metal detectorists led to the redefinition of the Roman Empire in southwestern Britain.

It used to be thought that the influence of ancient Rome did not extend beyond Exeter, but this find led to a major archaeological dig which uncovered new coins, a section of Roman road and the remains of ships from France and the Mediterranean once full of wine. olive oil and garum - a fish sauce.

The far southwest of Britain has long been considered an area that clung to its independence, but the discovery at Ipplepen , near Newton Abbot, 20 miles southwest of Exeter, led to the conclusion that Roman influence was strongly felt here.

It is also fair to assume that the Roman road probably did not end at Ipplepen, but almost certainly continued toward the modern town of Totnes and perhaps even further south and west.

Danielle Wootton, Devon's finds liaison officer, said she was intrigued when metal detectors Jim Wills and Dennis Hewings told her about the Roman coins they found in the Ipplepen paddocks.

"Then more and more coins were discovered, which is really unusual for this area," she said. By the time 150 coins were discovered, it was clear that Wills and Hewings had stumbled onto something important."

The geophysical research commissioned the discovery of circular ditches associated with Iron Age roundhouses and a Roman road. The project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter; the Portable Antiquities Scheme, run by the British Museum; Devon County Council; and Cotswold Archaeology . Experts, students, and local volunteers began the painstaking process of digging and sifting to try to determine exactly what is here.

The conclusion is that the road was probably built by the Roman army in the 1950s A.D. and improved and rebuilt over the next 300 years. Probably as interesting as the road are the pottery, which continues to be unearthed almost every day.

There are the usual crude shards that one would get from pots and bowls for everyday cooking. But there are also items of "Saman ware." - refined kitchen bowls of French origin. One of the fragments depicts the figure of a man, possibly Hercules with a club. Also found were handles from amphorae in which wine, oil and sauce could be stored.

This may have been a Romano-British settlement, where the native Britons traded with the Romans -- hence the coins -- and embraced elements of their way of life.

Wootton said: "The presence of such vessels demonstrates that the people living here were at least in some way influenced by the Romans - they adopted Romanized ways of eating and drinking, which shows that some locals developed a taste for Mediterranean foods such as wine and olives.