Vital evidence has been discovered which could prove Colchester was a major settlement more than 2,000 years ago.

Experts from the Colchester Archaeological Trust have been digging at Colchester Institute which is undergoing a radical £92 million redevelopment.

And they have found artefacts which show Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town, may have existed as a thriving settlement in the first century BC.

Philip Crummy, director and chief archaeologist of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, said evidence, including coins, already existed that Colchester dated back to about 25 BC.

But now discoveries at the college lead them to believe there was significant occupation in the town at that time.

Among the finds at the college are a wooden paddle which was preserved for thousands of years by being waterlogged.

Archaeologists have also found what they believe to be burnt bread and a collection of glass game counters.

Ankles shackles or handcuffs, which might have been used to restrain prisoners, have also been found on site.

Mr Crummy said: "At the college site, there is more settlement activity than we expected.

"The road going through with buildings either side has remains of industrial activities such as metal work.

"It is a site which was to do with manufacturing and trading.

"This is important in learning how old Colchester is, when and how it was founded.

"I think the evidence we have found at Sheepen Place means we can push back occupation to the 1st century BC which was long expected but for which we had no evidence."

Historic evidence was first found during major excavations at Sheepen Place in the 1930s but archaeologists are now exploring the site which is being currently being redeveloped.

Mr Crummy said: "This has added significance to our overall understanding.

"We have found evidence the site started earlier than originally thought. It had been thought that it had been founded in the 1st century AD but it looks as it went back to the 1st century BC."

Mr Crummy said the evidence also supported his speculative theory that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar may have come to Colchester.

He said: "We know he crossed the Thames and fought the British king Cassivellaunus.

"No-one knows where Cassivellaunus' stronghold was but the description could have been Colchester.

"One of the problems was Colchester was not around in the 1st century BC but now the evidence really pushes Colchester back into that century and also as a stronghold."