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COLCHESTER’S proud claim to be Britain’s oldest recorded town has been defended in the face of new archaeological discoveries.

Archaeologists digging around Silchester, in Hampshire, claim to have found evidence of an Iron Age town that enjoyed its greatest days before the Roman invasion in AD43.

Reading University’s Professor Michael Fulford, who is leading the dig, said the discoveries were exciting.

He said; “We’re turning up more questions every day, but the evidence is all pointing in one direction.

“The only rivals for the title of oldest town would be St Albans or Colchester, but there is nothing to suggest anything on this scale.”

But Philip Crummy, director of Colchester Archaeological Trust, said while the discoveries at Silchester – known as Calleva Atrebatum in Roman times – were very interesting, it was too early to be rewriting the history books.

He said: “It’s not really all that important which town is the oldest. I have visited Silchester several times and it’s a very isolated site that is very well-preserved.

“Both places were pre-Roman settlements protected by dykes and there is evidence that Colchester was a major settlement 100 years before the Romans came.

“But it was quite dispersed with fields between houses that were linked by tracks.

In Silchester they claim to have found something that resembles a modern town, with a concentrated centre and a discernible lay out of streets.”

Mr Crummy said Colchester’s claim to fame was safe regardless of the remains uncovered elsewhere, thanks to Pliny the Elder referring to the town – then called Camulodunum – in a manuscript dated to AD 77.

He added: “Colchester is the oldest town in Britain that there is a written reference to, so until they can find a reference to Silchester in an even older manuscript, Colchester is fine.”