A TEAM who have spent 18 years unearthing the secrets of Silchester’s past are to hang up their trowels - for now.

Experts and students from the University of Reading have been painstakingly excavating the Roman Town Calleva Atrebatum since 1997.

Every summer since then, a team has spent six weeks at the site, near Silchester.

Professor Mike Fulford, who has led the project since the very start, said he had only anticipated the dig lasting no more than 10 summers when they first began.

The 65-year-old said: “I certainly didn’t think that it would take 18 years. It works out at 107 weeks we have spent at Calleva and I have some very happy memories of our time here.

“Relationships have been formed, friendships made and some of the students working here now hadn’t even been born when we first started.

“Now, we have exhausted what we can discover at the site and we need time to write up our findings.”

He anticipates that this will take around five years, after which, the team may return to a different area of the site, and the University of Reading will maintain links with the site.

Amanda Clarke, director of field services at the University of Reading, said it will be sad to say goodbye to Silchester when they leave this Saturday.

She said: “It has been 18 years of my life here. At the moment I think it will be good when it’s over because it is quite stressful, but by the time the last day comes I will be in tears.”

The site has held two final Open Days for the public to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the dig - one on July 26 and the most recent last Saturday.

Alison Page, of Limes Park, Rooksdown, attended the first July event with family and friends.

The 43-year-old said: “It’s quite interesting and the kids seem to be enjoying themselves.

“I have learnt quite a few things that I did not know, such as the Romans cleaned their ears using a scoop.”

Among those at the event last Saturday was Caroline Boama, from Tadley, and her six-year-old son Edward Boama. Mrs Boama said: “We came along as we heard it was the last one.

“It’s a bit of a different day out and it’s great that there is so much for the children to get involved in.”