Really? Burnham-on-Sea is Iscalis?

Well, no, probably not Burnham exactly. But as near as makes no difference. Let’s look at the area of interest, between the Axe and the Parrett:

The watery side of Somerset

The Somerset Levels at the time of the Roman Occupation

The question is first – are there signs of Iron Age occupation (never mind whether they were Belgae, Durotriges, Dobunni or Dumnonii)? For a start, there are the places ringed in red.

On the right, the lake settlements – the ‘villages’ at Meare and Godney (aka Glastonbury Lake Village). On the left, half off the diagram, is Cannington hillfort: it’s south of the Parrett, so can be ignored for these purposes; towards the top is the large multivallate hillfort on Brent Knoll.

On the coast, below Burnham is Alstone – the site of another lake settlement which hasn’t been fully investigated, but was certainly inhabited during the Roman period. The ‘island’ stands, geologically speaking, on a ‘Burtle bed’ – a slightly raised area set on clay, covered with an accumulation of sand and gravel. Geologists can’t agree whether these were formed during an ice age or whether tidal waters washed up the debris. The eponymous ‘Burtle’ is a small village set on a similar bed, shown on the diagram above, south of Wedmore, north of the Poldens and to the west of Meare and Godney.

It’s tempting to see Westhay, Meare and Godney as similar structures, set in a line with Alstone and Burtle, but in fact they appear to be geologically different.

My feeling was that Iscalis had to be in an area occupied by Celts and Romans. The Iron Age archaeological sites aren’t limited to the ones I’ve mentioned: but what about the Romans?

There were four main areas of heavy Romanisation in this part of Somerset: three were around Ilchester, stretching along the Poldens to Compton Dundon; around Bath and along the Avon to Sea Mills – Portus Abonae; and the western section of the Mendips, around Charterhouse and the lead mines.

A fourth area was the one marked in the diagram above with the blue outline. Here the signs of Roman occupation are abundant. Why? Forget about lead-mining: this was a major centre of Roman salt production. What would be good to find here is an  area of Roman occupation similar in extent to Lendeniae, Aquae Sulis (Calidae), Corinium and Isca Dumnoniorum – quality rather than quantity – and this may be a bit more difficult.


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