incredible series of mosaic floors (with a couple of additions), but now we have the opportunity to tell them more about the conservation and care of those surfaces. We have been able to develop the formal gardens too, not only recreating their appearance but featuring a variety of plants that were used for different purposes during the Roman period. In 2007, moreover, a new purpose-built store, the Collections Discovery Centre, was constructed at Fishbourne to house the artefacts from the original excavations, plus more recent discoveries from the immediate area. This building is also home to the archaeological collections of the Novium museum in Chichester, providing researchers and staff with easy access to the material, as well as a dedicated conservation laboratory.
As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we are also putting together a new audiovisual display in the lower end of the North Wing, to share photos and stories from the 1960s and 1990s investigations. Another key development has been the introduction of our award-winning learning programme. Many visitors fondly remember school trips to Fishbourne as a starting point for their passion for the past, and our educational programme is still going strong, with 20,000 schoolchildren visiting the site each year. We also provide creative activities for young people and adult day-courses covering everything from Latin to natural dyes.
As for future research, across the site there are lengths of original Roman wall, sections of guttering, and numerous pieces of other stonework, all of which are in need of some care. In Fishbourne’s anniversary year, we are fundraising to undertake detailed surveys of, and conservation work on, these standing remains (see box below), and we are also hoping to be able to display recreations of some of Fishbourne’s fabulous collection of painted plasterwork in the gardens, to give visitors a sense of how the palace’s exterior walls may have looked.
get involved Throughout the year we are holding a series of 50 talks by members of staff and volunteers, each focusing on an object from the diverse collection of artefacts on display and in store. Fishbourne in 50 Objects is a great way for us to highlight artefacts that may otherwise be overlooked – so far we have featured ceramic water-pipes, Samian ware, melon beads, window glass, painted wall-plaster, animal bone, and a ring intaglio. We are also asking people who have been involved with the site or visited Fishbourne over the last 50 years to contribute their memories to an online exhibition. We are interested to hear about the connections people have had with the palace, and would like to create an archive of these recollections for the future – but this initiative also ties into our work to engage and involve the left Fishbourne Roman Palace’s annual Have a Go at Archaeology event allows members of the public to try their hand at digging, and lets archaeologists re-examine unsieved spoil from the 1960s excavation.
public more at Fishbourne, creating a sense of shared ownership of our past.
A key part of this is our annual Have a Go at Archaeology event, which links back to the original Fishbourne excavations. During this event, visitors of all ages have the chance to dig alongside our archaeologists in a trench cut into the 1960s spoilheap – something that offers people firsthand experience of excavation, but also gives us an opportunity to recover artefacts that were missed during the first investigations. We know that the soil was not sieved back in the 1960s, so targeted sieving enables us to recover smaller finds such as bones, small tesserae, and fragments of glass. These mini-digs have also uncovered quantities of Roman tile, oyster shells, pottery, and even a couple of Roman coins. Although these artefacts are unstratified, they are a great resource for our learning team and can, in some cases, contribute further to our understanding of the site.
Fishbourne’s 50th anniversary marks a moment in time when we are reflecting on and celebrating the achievements of the past half-century, but we are are also looking ahead to the next 50 years and beyond. Such is the nature of an archaeological site, that we are constantly striving to maintain the remains in the condition in which they were uncovered, but at the same reassessing and re-evaluating what we know and what we assume, to arrive at new interpretations of the evidence. This is what keeps a site like Fishbourne Roman Palace fresh and interesting. For each of us – staff, volunteers, and visitors alike – there is always something new to discover about this incredible site.
further information For more details about Fishbourne – Fifty Years On, or to make a donation to the fundraising appeal, please visit www.sussex past.co.uk/fishbourne.