A HUGE early Roman settlement unearthed in Cirencester is the most significant historical discovery ever made in the town, archaeologists said this week.

The encampment which covers several hectares, dates back to the late-Iron Age in the 1st century ad, and was likely to have been occupied by the first Roman settlers in Cirencester.

Alongside the exciting discovery at the Kingshill development on the A417, Oxford Archaeologists unearthed a Bronze Age burial mound dating back to 2,000 bc containing a skeleton.

County archaeologist Charles Parry said when the proposal to build 270 houses and a shop on the land came up his team recommended an excavation to retrieve the town's lost past.

"It is one of the most significant and interesting sites discovered in Cirencester. We knew that there was important archaeology there as it is very close to the major road system of the Roman town of Cirencester," he said.

"There are known to be a scatter of such farmsteads across the Cotswold landscape but what is remarkable is the size of the settlement as it is quite large and the activity on it was unusual."

The settlement enclosure contains lots of pits probably used for grain storage.

Archaeologists are now trying to find out if the settlement dates back to just before or after the Roman conquest.

Senior project manager at Oxford Archaeology, Ken Welsh said the team of 15 have found evidence suggesting there were round houses there and textile making took place.

So far they have found some loom weights made of stone and pottery and a weaving comb.

Mr Parry said: "This is one of the largest excavations in Cirencester as it covers several hectares. It seems to have been a settlement which went through various changes over time which is unusual."

The prehistoric round barrow burial mound found near to the settlement contained a central pit where what is thought to be a male skeleton was found buried with a pottery vessel known as a beaker from the late-Neolithic and early Bronze Age.

An array of prehistoric material has been found at the site including flint from various tools, polished stone axes and tools made from bone and antlers as well as highly decorated pottery.

Mr Welsh, said: "It may have been an area people came back to again and again and perhaps these materials were placed as some type of thanksgiving."

Oxford Archaeologists are hoping their painstaking research will unearth the history of who may have once lived or worked in the area.

The team, who finish their dig commissioned by Robert Hitchens and Redrow housebuilders tomorrow (Fri), will review all of the finds which will eventually go to Cirencester's Corinium Museum.