A Newly Discovered Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery from Hampshire

In November, CA’s Andover office commenced excavation on a 2ha site in Hampshire, funded by Persimmon Homes.  Previously the site had been subject to evaluation by Wessex Archaeology and geophysical survey by GSB. The site occupies the southwest facing aspect of a shallow spur at the confluence of two gentle coombes; one to the north, the other to the east. The earlier works identified areas of key archaeological significance, including a small group of ring ditches to the east, and domestic settlement extending along the western facing slopes of the northern coombe.

The excavation was split into seven distinct areas, in order to target a variety of features identified during the earlier works. Areas 1 to 5 targeted isolated discrete features identified during the evaluation. Despite their small size, these areas revealed a cluster of 8 cremations, a small round house and a posthole alignment.

location map

The largest area, Area 6 , targeted four large ring ditches, thought to represent the remains of four Bronze Age round barrows. Following stripping, it became evident that these features were indeed round barrows, each containing either central burials or cremations; in some cases, both. The two largest barrows comprised ditches measuring 5m in width. The ditch of the barrow furthest to the east had been truncated by a horseshoe shaped mortuary enclosure. Other features in Area 6 included a posthole alignment, along with an incomplete circle of fifty stake holes, arranged around a central pit.

aerial photo showing the barrows in Area 6

Area 7 was located to the east of Area 6 and targeted a small ring ditch identified in the eastern section of the site. This proved to be a further Bronze Age barrow with a central burial. An Iron Age ditch was also identified.

close up photo of two barrowsFollowing machine stripping, the five barrows were cleaned and photographed by drone. Once this was complete excavation began on the small ring ditch in Area 7. Although the ditch itself did not produce any finds or features, the central burial contained a poorly preserved crouched skeleton, along with fragments of pottery, a copper-alloy awl and a flint thumbnail scraper.

Excavation of the two smaller barrows in Area 6 is now underway, although so far the ditches have only produced Late Iron Age and Roman pottery. Although round barrows are common in this region, it is unusual for a commercial excavation to reveal a whole barrow cemetery, along with an associated mortuary enclosure and other probable ritualistic features. This exciting excavation provides us with the opportunity to significantly enhance our understanding of Hampshire’s Bronze Age landscape. More information will follow, once the archaeological work at the site is complete.

Oliver Good

two barrows prior to excavation (view from the ground level)

Cotswold Archaeology Nominated for Two Current Archaeology Awards!

The 2018 Current Archaeology Awards nominations have been announced, and we are fortunate enough to have been nominated for two awards, both in the Research Project of the Year category!

Archaeology Awards nominee badge for Roman Rural settlement projectRome’s Homes On The Range: Revealing the Romano-British Countryside

This nomination is for our work as partners with the University of Reading on the Roman Rural Settlement Project. This major project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Historic England, drew together published and unpublished excavated evidence for Roman rural settlement, from over 2500 sites, in order to produce a new synthesis of the countryside of Britain during the Roman period. The results of the project are presented in three volumes, dealing respectively with the rural settlement pattern, the rural economy, and life and death in the countryside. The first two of these volumes are now published!

Additionally, the project produced an online resource, which makes the data collected by the project (including site plans and information about artefacts and environmental evidence) available to anyone who wishes to use it. This resource is hosted by the Archaeology Data Service.

It is no overstatement to say that this project has been immensely influential, and its results are transforming our understanding of rural settlement, industry and life in Roman Britain.

Cover of Britannia monographs
screenshot of the ADS project website

Don’t believe us? Prof. Richard Hingley, author of an early and influential previous study of Romano-British rural settlement, has said:

‘The Rural Settlement of Roman Britain Project’ and its outputs will doubtless serve as an exemplar for future initiatives that seek to address rural settlement in the Western Roman Empire, and will provide a vital research tool for future work in England and Wales.
R Hingley, 2017 Antiquity August 2017

Archaeology Awards nominee badge for Boxford community digBellerephon in Boxford: A Mythological Mosaic Revealed

This nomination relates to our work on a community project, ‘ Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage’, a joint project involving CA, the Boxford History Project, and the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, over three years the project has investigated three closely linked Roman sites near to the village of Boxford in West Berkshire. This summer our excavation revealed a spectacular Roman mosaic (you may have heard of it!), associated with a late Roman villa.

Matt Nichol working on the mosaicThe figurative mosaic is packed with mythical characters and beasts based on Greek legend, including a scene depicting the hero Bellerophon, fighting the Chimera. Other figures on the mosaic possibly include Hercules fighting a centaur, Cupid holding a wreath, and depictions of telamons in the corners.

The discovery of this exceptional mosaic attracted international attention; mosaic specialist Antony Beeson has said:

This is without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years and must take a premier place amongst those Romano-British works of art that have come down to modern Britons.

Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his right hand
Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his right hand

All nominations for the Current Archaeology Awards are based on articles and books featured within Current Archaeology over the last 12 months. Voting for the awards is live (until 5th February 2018) and is open to everyone. We’d be very grateful for your support!

Take a virtual tour of the wreck of the London

For the first time, non-divers can explore the protected historic wreck site of the 350-year-old warship the London – one of England’s most important 17th-century shipwrecks – which lies in two parts in the Thames estuary off Southend Pier. Historic England has commissioned Cotswold Archaeology, in collaboration with ArtasMedia, CyanSub and MSDS Marine, to create a 3D virtual tour of the London wreck site, which is extraordinarily well preserved.
The ship blew up on 7th March 1665 after gunpowder stored on board caught fire during a journey from Chatham to the Hope, near Gravesend. The ship was en route to collect final supplies after being mobilised to take part in the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665–7.

A group of people standing behind freshly excavated gun carriage from the LondonSince 2010, the site has been monitored and investigated by the licensee, Steve Ellis, and his team in collaboration with Cotswold Archaeology (since 2014), and previously with Wessex Archaeology. A small part of the wreck was also excavated by Historic England in 2015, and an extremely rare wooden gun carriage was recovered as well as more than 700 artefacts, some of which are already on display at the Southend Museum.

Alison James, Maritime Archaeologist at Historic England said: We are delighted that for the first time we can bring the wreck of the London to the ‘surface’ for all to explore. The#LondonWreck1665 project has been a high profile project yet to date only a small number of divers have been able to explore the site. The wreck is located in poor visibility right next to a shipping channel in a highly tidal environment, so not an easy or attractive place to dive.”

Alison James continued: “This virtual trail means that people can explore the site without even getting wet! The Historic England virtual dive trail scheme has shown that underwater archaeology can be accessible to all, allowing us to dive in to history from the comfort of our own home.”

“The diving conditions are so challenging that it is a pleasure to be able to see the site on my computer screen, as can others. I have to take my hat off to the licensee team, Steve and Carol Ellis, and Steve Meddle, for diving to monitor the site week-in and week-out. It is a huge commitment for which they should be congratulated.”

Overview of the application showing the wreck

The dive trail takes the form of an interactive website which includes images, video, audio commentary and panoramas, outlining the history of the ship, its loss, and its re-discovery, as well as the archaeological investigations that have been conducted on site in recent years.

The website has sections that provide details of the ship’s construction, the weaponry it carried, nautical and other equipment, and personal items of the crew. The site also provides details of the ongoing analysis and conservation of some of the rare items that have been recovered that will enhance our knowledge and understanding of life on board a 17th-century warship.

For the virtual tour of the wreck visit The London on CloudTour.

Weyhill, Andover – an Anglo-Norman execution cemetery

In 2016 Cotswold Archaeology excavated a site prior to the construction of a new Aldi store, at Weyhill Road, on the western fringes of Andover, in Hampshire. While there was some evidence for late Iron Age and Roman activity at the site, the most significant discovery was a Saxon and medieval cemetery containing the graves of 124 people. The disarticulated bones of around 35 other individuals indicated that the cemetery was used for some time and that there had been disturbance to some of the graves, suggesting that they had not been carefully marked.

Archaeologists excavating human remains

The skeletal remains were carefully analysed by CA osteoarchaeologist, Sharon Clough, and the group was found to be very unusual indeed. Where sex could be determined, almost all of the individuals were adult males (only three confirmed females were present), and young adults aged between around 18 to 25 years were most common; no young children were identified. This is not what would be expected of a ‘typical’ cemetery, representative of a normal population. It is, however, consistent with the profile of an execution cemetery. Such an interpretation is supported by the location of the site close to the modern parish boundary, which may represent an earlier Saxon land boundary.

Archaeologist excavate human remains on Weyhill siteFurther evidence for the nature of the site came from the injuries sustained by some of the individuals, which strongly suggested that they had been executed; several had neck vertebrae with cut marks, or had the skull placed separately within the grave; three of the graves contained double burials, indicating that they’d been buried together; one man had had his hands cut off at the wrist and placed underneath his body; two individuals had fractured second cervical vertebrae, suggesting death by hanging. These characteristics are consistent with other sites interpreted as Late Saxon judicial punishment cemeteries.

Of particular interest, the initial results from a programme of radiocarbon dating suggest that the cemetery was in use for an unusually long period of time, from the mid-Saxon period through to the medieval period. The longevity of the burial ground is further indicated by a number of intercutting graves and disturbed bones. Most of the individuals were buried between the 8th and 12th centuries AD, although one of the double burials appears to have been as late as the 13th or 14th century. The site therefore has the potential to make a significant contribution towards our understanding of the administration of justice during the Saxon and medieval periods.

Saxon coinVery few artefacts were recovered from the cemetery, with finds from graves restricted to a small number of animal bones, worked bone artefacts and objects of iron, mainly buckles. A single silver coin of Aethelred I (Aelthelred the Unready), dating from AD 979-985, was found in the left hand of one skeleton. This person had been buried lying face down.

The nature of this site is immensely sombre and we will never know the personal stories of the individuals who met their unfortunate fates somewhere nearby, and were ultimately buried here. Were some of these people victims of sad miscarriages of justice? Perhaps some were executed for what might be considered today to be trivial misdemeanours. Ongoing analysis will hopefully refine our understanding of the dating of the cemetery and the osteobiographies of the individuals, allowing more of their stories to be told.

We are grateful to Aldi Stores Ltd, who funded the archaeological work at the site and the subsequent analysis and reporting, and to David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Hampshire Historic Environment Team, who provided advice and monitored the excavation.

Fully excavated graves

Roman stamped tiles from Gloucester – a rediscovery

Dr Peter Warry FSA is an expert on Roman ceramic building material, and has just published an article on the use of stamped Roman tiles in Gloucestershire. Among other things, in his new article Peter posits that Hucclecote villa, situated to the east of Gloucester, played an important role as a sort of recycling depot for tile.

Peter’s work on the tile was supported in no small way by CA’s Hazel O’Neill, Post-Excavation Supervisor, who managed a team of volunteers as part of the Gloucester Museum Store Project. This successful initiative consolidated a number of unorganised excavation archives and finds assemblages held by Gloucester museum, dating back to the 1980s, ordering the material and bringing the archives in line with modern curation standards.

Dr Peter Warry, recording a stamped tile in the museum store
Dr Peter Warry, recording a stamped tile in the museum store
A stamped Roman tile from Gloucester, found in the museum store
A stamped Roman tile from Gloucester, found in the museum store

The work of Hazel and her team enabled previously unreported Roman tiles (and other finds) within these excavation archives to be catalogued and reported on for the first time. One box of stamped tile had been missing for several years, having been searched for unsuccessfully by several people previously. It was finally rediscovered lurking in a store by a member of Hazel’s team.

The missing box, from a site at Commercial Road, carried a different site name on the front (the right name was on the back, which couldn’t be seen), was not in the museum’s catalogue and was known only from a 1988 report by Tim Darvill. However, this box contained around 100 stamped tiles – roughly a quarter of the entire corpus of Gloucester civic stamped tiles. Dr Warry was so happy about the rediscovery that he kissed the box!

Peter’s work on the material is published as Warry, P. 2017. ‘Production, Distribution, Use and Curation: A Study of Stamped Tile from Gloucestershire’, Britannia 48, 77-115

An abstract can be viewed online.

CA volunteer, Valentina Perrone, recording a stamped tile
CA volunteer, Valentina Perrone, recording a stamped tile

The London 1665 – An Explosion at Sea

The warship London sank in the Thames Estuary on 7th March 1665 while preparing for the second Anglo-Dutch war,  which had been declared by Charles II only three days earlier.

One of the cannons recovered from the London Wreck
One of the cannons recovered from the London

The ship was en route from Chatham to Hope, awaiting the arrival of the Admiral, Sir John Lawson, when it was torn apart by an internal explosion attributed to the mass detonation of the gunpowder in the magazine. Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist and at the time a naval administrator, recorded the loss in his diary entry dated 8th March 1665.

‘This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of ‘The London’, in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a ‘this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart’. 

The site was re-discovered in 1962 and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 in 2008.  Cotswold Archaeology has worked on the site since 2014.

The sudden loss of the ship and crew (and others on board) means that the archaeological remains have the potential to answer many research questions about life on a seventeenth century ship. In four seasons of excavation CA, working alongside the licensee Steve Ellis and his team, has recovered a whole host of exceptionally well-preserved artefacts.

Detailed studies of five of the bronze guns recovered from the site have revealed that three were fully loaded and had tampions (stoppers placed in the muzzle when not in use) in place, one was partially loaded, and one was empty. This suggests that the master gunner was preparing the ship for battle at the time of its loss.

The large number of used clay pipes recovered from the site may hint at the cause of the explosion of the ship, heavily laden as it was with gunpowder…

A wooden powder box
A wooden powder box
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung