The first national archaeology conference hosted by the University of Chester was the Royal Archaeological Institute’s annual conference: The Impact of Rome on the Countryside. There were over 100 delegates attending the event. I was honoured to help in bringing the RAI conference to Chester, although much of the real work has been done by the RAI’s Caroline Raison and former RAI President, Professor David Breeze.
On Friday night, Professor Nico Roymans opened the conference with a public keynote lecture that attracted delegates but also local archaeologists and enthusiasts including the Lord Mayor of Chester. The keynote lecture was opened by the University of Chester’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler and chaired by the conference organiser Professor David Breeze. The University’s Corporate Communications office helped make this possible, as did the Conference Office, and the Riverside Innovation Centre which served as the venue.
Professor Roymans is a widely known expert in Dutch archaeology, with his interests focusing on later prehistory and the Roman era. With a superb far-ranging and theorised discussion of the Romanisation of the near-Continent up to the Rhine frontier, Nico’s paper drew upon extensive excavations in the Low Countries and synthetic research by a range of researchers.
This was a superb start to the conference. There were many important points made in Nico’s lecture about the motors for culture change and the effect of Roman ways of living and consuming upon the countryside. He was quite critical of post-colonial approaches to Romaniation, suggested that we shouldn’t over-emphasise the burden of taxation in the early Empire, and supportive of Martin Millett’s arguments regarding elite emulation as a process for cultura change.
With my interests in burial archaeology, I was struck by Nico’s arguments regarding the regional distributions of different kinds of mortuary monument including tower-tombs and tumuli. I was also interested in the argument that the collective cremation cemeteries of the 1st and 2nd century AD might be a deliberate reinvention of still-visible Bronze Age mortuary landscapes. I have always been a fan of Nico’s work, and I have regularly used his paper on the cultural biography of urnfields from the journal Archaeological Dialogues in my own research.
Sadly due to personal circumstances, I was unable to attend Saturday’s papers, but I do understand that plans at afoot for a publication to come out of the conference.