A star find

Brancaster Roman fort (Branodunum) is one of a line of 'Saxon shore forts' constructed on the north Norfolk coast towards the end of the Roman period in Britain and is listed on the 'Notia Dignitatum', a unique Roman record of the organisation of the western Empire.

The forts were long thought by academics to be a response to the increased threat from Anglo Saxon invaders, but these ideas have recently been challenged, with some proposing that a far more cooperative relationship existed and that the 'shore forts' were, in fact, trading posts taking advantage of new markets as a reaction to instability in the Mediterranean.

Today, Brancaster fort sits in a series of open fields belonging to the National Trust. The site is still visible as earthworks on the ground and as cropmarks in aerial photographs. These amazing images show walls, towers, a gatehouse and a large commander's complex in the middle of the site. The stone walls and towers stood until the late 16th century when the site is recorded as being robbed to build much of the local village (a good deal of the church is built from the non-local fort stone). Brancaster fort is also surrounded by the remains of an extensive vicus or civilian settlement. The vicus to the west was excavated in the 1970s in advance of a housing development, but much of the fort and the eastern vicus remain untouched by archaeologists. Since Brancaster is a coastal site, debate continues about the use of the tidal flats and where exactly the quays, jetties and wharves that must have served the site are located.

But Brancaster isn't as straightforward as it sounds. Why is the huge fort on a different alignment to the civilian settlement? Does this mean there was a thriving Roman town at the site before the shore forts were constructed? There are hints of two possible earlier forts on the site  why were these built? Could at least one have been built as a response to the East Anglian Iceni rebellion? Time Team were invited by the National Trust to answer these questions and unlock the story of Brancaster from the peaceful fields of the north Norfolk coast... in just three days.