Excavation of a Roman villa complex in Lockleaze, South Gloucestershire

Between 22 August and 30 November 2016, Cotswold Archaeology carried out an archaeological excavation on land at Lockleaze, South Gloucestershire, prior to residential development of the site. Redrow Homes contracted CgMs as archaeological consultants and funded the excavation of the site by Cotswold Archaeology.

The site had been used until recently by Dings Crusaders Rugby Club as practice pitches and although some previous investigation had been undertaken, including trial trenching, it was not until the site was entirely stripped of topsoil that the layout of a Roman villa, complete with walled courtyard, outbuildings and wells was revealed, as well as a stone trackway, which presumably provided access to the settlement from a nearby road. Investigation of the archaeological remains indicated that the site had been occupied for a few hundred years, with the villa complex developing from an earlier settlement dating to the Late Iron Age. The site appears to have enjoyed its most prosperous period between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, before being abandoned sometime in the second half of the 4th century AD.

Although it was possible to recover a full ground plan of the development of the villa complex it was evident that the structural remains had been heavily robbed for stone and other material after it had fallen out of use, with the site effectively becoming an open quarry of readily available building material. Subsequent agricultural use of the site had evidently denuded the remains still further.

Aerial image of site following initial topsoil strip
Aerial image of site following initial topsoil strip

Investigations recovered a considerable quantity of artefacts including metal finds and pottery as well as animal bone, which will be carefully cleaned, catalogued and assessed for their archaeological significance. Resulting information will then be integrated into the post-excavation analysis of the site, which will ultimately culminate in the publication of a detailed report on the findings. Redrow then intends to donate all the finds to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

In partnership with Cotswold Archaeology, Redrow also plans to hold an exhibition of the finds at a venue close to the site and talks will be held for local school children, history enthusiasts and any other interested parties so they can hear a lot more about the exciting discoveries.

Bean in the pot

Recent work by Cotswold Archaeology at a site in the south of Exeter has revealed a tantalising glimpse into the prehistoric past of Devon and the wider South West.

Prompted by evidence for Bronze Age settlement (including roundhouses, enclosures and associated fields) from earlier excavations nearby, archaeological investigations took place in advance of development of the site. The area looked at by CA on this occasion seemed to lie on the periphery of this settlement. Scattered pits and boundary ditches were uncovered but most features lacked artefactual evidence to date them clearly. However, as with the earlier excavations, the dig revealed that the Bronze Age inhabitants of this place buried their pottery in a few highly concentrated deposits.

shallow-pit-with-pottery-fragmentsThe most notable of these was a pit containing around 8.5kg of Trevisker Ware: a form of pottery from Cornwall, as the name suggests, found throughout the South West. Over 270 sherds were discovered, probably from a single vessel with a rim around 40cm in diameter (see right). It had been decorated with patterns formed by pressing cord into the fabric before it was fired. The pit was less than 10cm deep and lay just below the modern ploughsoil. Only about a fifth of the vessel was actually present. It is likely that the rest was lost to ploughing, although it is possible that only a proportion of the pot was ever buried. The collecting together of ceramic material for burial in caches hints at particular importance being attached to these objects and their disposal.

bean-in-a-potAn interesting aspect of this material was the presence of a carbonised bean within the fabric of the pot (see left). It should be possible to establish the age of this using radiocarbon dating, and such a short-lived object as a bean, sealed within the wall of the pot as it was being made, should give a relatively close date for its production. This date can be extended to other vessels of similar style and decoration and may serve to refine our understanding of the chronology of Trevisker ware. This could be of wider significance since it might allow for more precise dating of other sites with similar ceramic material – including those already dug, and future excavations.

Martin Gillard

Greyfriars Quarter Redevelopment – further excavation of the Roman ‘Barton’ cemetery in Gloucester

Cotswold Archaeology has just started the last phase of excavation at the former GLOSCAT Media Studies site, part of the Greyfriars Quarter development by Linden Homes, and already some interesting Roman finds have been discovered, including burials and pottery.

samian pottery
A fragment of decorated Roman pottery found on site

Work began on 9th January 2017 on the final excavation area, located opposite the Museum of Gloucester at the intersection of Kiln Close and Brunswick Road.

The first burials from the ‘Barton’ cemetery were discovered during the construction of the Media Studies building in 1966. During redevelopment in 2013 and 2014, Cotswold Archaeology discovered, as well as 153 burials and four cremations, a further Roman enclosures, trackways, pits, a well and two kilns.

The cemetery was founded towards the later stage of the Roman era and burial continued to the end of the Roman period. The ‘Barton’ cemetery probably stretched from the East Gate to the south-eastern corner of the colonia. The excavated burials were characterised by few grave goods and by a high level of fractures, suggestive of a relatively poor, hard-working population.

Excavating a Roman well

Laurie Coleman, CA’s Principal Fieldwork Manager, overseeing the archaeological fieldwork, said: “This final phase of work is a great opportunity to further examine the Roman cemetery and to see if the burials closer to Brunswick Road are earlier and/or of a higher status than those we found three years ago.”

Chris Harris, Managing Director for Linden Homes, said: “This is a very important area, steeped in history and it’s incredibly exciting to find out more about Gloucester’s fascinating past. We fully support the archaeologists in their vital work and look forward to learning new information about the city during the Roman period and the people living within it.”

Cotswold Archaeology and Linden Homes are working closely with Gloucester City Council’s City Archaeologist and final phase of excavation is expected to take several weeks.

Gloscat Excavation 2017

A Roman ‘special deposit’ at Oak Lane, Bredon, Worcestershire

Cotswold Archaeology has just completed excavations ahead of residential development at Oak Lane, Bredon, on behalf of Newland Homes. We began monitoring the site in late October, but quickly mobilised an excavation team when it became apparent that a higher density of features than previously thought was present.

excavating-roman-well-at-oak-lane-brendonPrevious archaeological work in Bredon parish suggested that the area of was first occupied during the Bronze Age, with evidence for subsequent Iron Age and Roman activity coming from the vicinity of Bredon Farm. A trial trench evaluation that preceded the development indicated further Roman remains survived on site, but the extent of these was unclear. What emerged over the course of three-week excavation was the remains of rural Roman activity that included a well and a series of ditches, all pointing towards a small area of Roman occupation.

leather shoe from BredonThe well was the most interesting feature on site. It was stone lined and in good condition at its surface. Excavation to a depth of nearly two metres showed that the well had been subject to ritual closure that involved the careful placement of three ceramic vessels, over which were discovered the remains of both human and dog skeletons. Because of the waterlogged conditions at the base of the well organic material had survived, including two leather shoe soles (left).

Adrian Scruby (Historic Environment Advisor, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service), the archaeological advisor for the area, commented: “The archaeological contractor and the developer have worked closely together to deliver the excavation works successfully while enabling groundworks to proceed on the remainder of the site outside the area of archaeological interest. All in all it has been a model of good practice, and considering the size of the site it has delivered far more than we expected. The work will help tell new and old residents of Bredon alike about the history of their local area and resulted in some interesting discoveries.”

Michael Joyce, the CA project leader, added: “The concentration of archaeological evidence found during the excavation was far denser and more revealing for Bredon and the surrounding area than I think any of us were expecting. However, due to the high level of co-operation between Cotswold Archaeology and Newland Homes, and thanks to the hard work of all the site staff, we have gained a great understanding of an unexpected but interesting and informative Roman rural site”.

Click below to view a 3D model of the base of the Roman well created by Cotswold Geomatics team.

Early Medieval Burials from Hinkley Point

Analysis of the human skeletons has continued throughout 2016. Following approval by a range of consultees of a scientific pilot study on the bones, sampling has now been undertaken on a selection of the individuals for traces of ancient DNA.

sharon-and-sarah-in-protective-suits-ready-for-samplingStaff from the Faculty of Life Sciences, Manchester University, visited Cotswold Archaeology’s Kemble office in November to take the samples of bone to their laboratory. Professor Terry Brown and his team are leading experts in extracting and analysing DNA from archaeological bones. Within the spectrum of genetic profiling applications, ancient DNA may be used to identify genetic relationships of individuals on the maternal and paternal side. The particular interest for Hinkley therefore lies in the potential to be able to say something about these relationships among the occupants of the graveyard throughout its use.
Analysing ancient DNA is a high precision science from the beginning. Particular care is needed to avoid contamination by modern DNA, and so the staff involved wore protective clothing, while everyone else was excluded from the lab.

The best samples to take are those from well within the bone where the DNA is more likely to survive. Samples were taken of teeth, where dentine has a chance of surviving uncontaminated within a casing of enamel, and also of the dense petrous bone of the skull.

Preferably, teeth are taken with part of the jaw to limit the chance of contamination.


For the pilot study the samples came from relatively well-preserved skeletons where there was some suggestion of familial relationships because the individuals occupied the same grave, and in one instance where two individuals shared a possible genetic trait. The samples are to be analysed towards the end of 2016 and the results are expected in the first quarter of 2017.

For more information about the project see Archaeology at Hinkley Point blog site.

CAG Conference 2016

Cotswold Archaeology was strongly represented at this year’s Committee for Archaeology in Gloucestershire’s annual symposium, ‘Archaeology in Gloucestershire: Reports on Recent Projects’, held at Gloucester Guildhall on Saturday 8th October. CA provided three of the day’s eight speakers, as well as much of the subject matter for another talk: Gloucester City Archaeologist Andrew Armstrong’s presentation on Gloucester Castle.

Simon Sworn kicked the day off with a lively presentation on our multi-phase excavations at Siddington Road, just outside Cirencester. All periods from early prehistoric to Anglo-Saxon featured at this site, with the notable exception of the Romans – somewhat surprising given its proximity to Roman Corinium. Martin Watts attempted to keep the audience awake after lunch with an update on our work at Llanthony Secunda Priory, Gloucester, including the recent discovery that timber-studded upper floor of the Medieval Range was once jettied, and most probably originally from another building. Daniel Sausins (pictured below) brought the day to a conclusion with his account of our Late Iron Age and Roman excavations at Stratford Road, Mickleton, sending the audience (who numbered about 75) home happy with pictures of cold, wet archaeologists toiling through the rain, mud and snow of a North Cotswolds winter.

Daniel Sausins on CAG conference