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Ros Niblett

FIVE DECADES DIGGING

Rosalind Niblett has just retired from full-time employment after five decades in archaeology, most of it spent in and around St Albans. Ros is one of the generation of archaeologists who joined the profession before both the 'rescue revolution' around 1970 and the 'PPG16 revolution' around 1990. Both revolutions meant big increases in staffing – the former via local government, the latter from developerfunding. Before that, the number of active archaeologists was tiny, and most people knew each other. 'It was a very small world,' says Ros. 'When I worked on Frere's excavations at Verulamium in the late 50s, everyone visited. On my degree course at Cardiff in the early 60s, there were just six of us – and you met virtually everyone doing degrees elsewhere in the summer because we all went on the same digs.'

Ros Dunnett (as she then was) had caught the bug early. Born in north-west London, brought up near Watford, and educated at St Helen's, a local girls' private school, she started digging when she was a teenager. Her civil servant father showed her newspaper accounts of Grimes' excavation of the Temple of Mithras in London, which inspired her to join the Watford Archaeological Society and get on her bike to volunteer on local excavations. Her mother worried, and she was only allowed to go on her first dig – a Roman villa at Moor Park on the edge of Watford in 1956 – in company with her brother. The following year – looking for the Verulamium-Silchester road – she went on her own. But as the youngest member of the team, just fifteen, 'I had to sit under a hedge eating my sandwiches when they all escaped off to the pub for lunch.'

That was also the year she started at Verulamium – the start of a 50 year professional engagement with the Roman town. The site was already at the very heart of Roman Britain studies. Landmark excavations by the Wheelers (Mortimer and Tessa) of a rich residential quarter on the southern side of the town in 1930-1933 had formed the picture of RomanoBritish urbanism that came to dominate the academic literature for a generation after. The Wheeler view was encapsulated in the title of the excavation report published in 1936: Verulamium: a Belgic and Two Roman Cities. It was, says Ros, 'a milestone in the history of Romano-British studies since it represented the archaeologycurrent

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