News

An Early Medieval Experience for CA Volunteers!

As part of our busy work experience programme, two students from local schools were treated to a talk from our post-excavation processor, Claire Collier.

three people standing in front of the camera with weapon, woman in the middle holding a shield and an axe looking scaryClaire is a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment and living history group. The group aims to reenact as accurately as possible the lives of people from a cross-section of English society at around the turn of the first millennium AD. The group’s watchword is ‘authenticity’ and they will not make any item of kit that they cannot verify from contemporary sources. All aspects of life are portrayed by the group, ranging from the lowly baker to the mighty warrior.

The students were shown reconstructed items used in everyday early medieval life, including clothes and dress accessories. They also learned about the early medieval diet, handling objects associated with eating and drinking such as wooden bowls and ceramic and horn cups.

They were also able to handle weapons which have been reconstucted based on archaeological finds of Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman arms, including a sword, axe, mace and bow and arrow.

Don’t worry, they’re not as scary as they look! (Well, except for Claire maybe…)

For more information on Regia Anglorum, visit their web page at: regia.org

Author: Hazel O’Neill
Date: August 2018

 


Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology 2018

archaeologist behind the table showcasing artefacts. A woman and a boy in front of the table asking questions and looking at the findsOn Saturday (28th July) Cotswold Archaeology attended Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology Day held by Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in the beautiful Blaise Castle Estate. The event focuses on the amazing archaeology to be found in and around the city. Unfortunately, the heat wave came to an abrupt end, forcing us to dismantle wind swept gazebos and head indoors where it was much dryer!

Once we’d dried off, we were able to showcase some of the finds from our most recent excavations at the new UWE sport pitches including a beautiful Roman glass bead and two Roman coins (see below). We also featured finds from our central Bristol site at Redcliffe and another Roman site in Thornbury.

two coins showing obverse and reverse

Mineralised poo and saponified fat
Top: mineralised poo; bottom: saponified fat

The Redcliffe site has produced lots of well-preserved medieval organic material, including soap and human faeces. Visitors of all ages had a go at our ‘Mystery Find’ guessing game and also tried to identify the difference between medieval soap and medieval poo.

These unusual finds inspired our soap making activity and over 150 soaps were made throughout the course of the day. The soap included herbs and biodegradable glitter of the maker’s choice, so there were plenty of bespoke examples in bathrooms across Bristol on Sunday morning.

This was one of the events busiest years yet and there were 1286 visitors taking part in a huge range of archaeological activities. It was great to meet and answer questions from so many people and we had a lot of fun doing so.

Hazel O’Neill

people at the table making soap


A Medieval Building and its Contents at Island Farm, Ottery St Mary, East Devon – CA’s first publication in Internet Archaeology

In 2014 we excavated a medieval building in Ottery St Mary, Devon, and the site is the subject of our first ever publication in the online journal ‘Internet Archaeology’.

charred seed remainsThe excavations took place in advance of housing development at Island Farm, Ottery St Mary, and revealed what is interpreted as a medieval longhouse, dating to c. AD 1250–1350. The building had been destroyed by a disastrous fire. Although the fire destroyed the building, in doing so it carbonised structural timbers and other botanical remains, which have provided us with fantastically well-preserved evidence for the building’s structure and its contents. We have been able to use identifications of wood species and spatial arrangements of the charred remains to suggest the materials employed in the construction of the building and to identify some of its contents, which included a variety of crops stored in one of its rooms. Other finds include fragments derived from the repair of copper-alloy vessels, an axe-head, and, remarkably, a Bronze Age palstave, which seems to have been found and kept by the medieval occupants of the building.

bronze palstave

Detailed analysis has provided us with unusual detail of the types of wood used in the construction of the building, principally oak for the timber framing and alder and willow for its wattle panelling. We have also been able to identify the composition of the harvest stored in part of the building, which included oats, wheat, rye, barley, broad beans, peas and vetches.

excavated medieval buildingThe longhouse has similarities with other examples known from Devon, although our interpretation of it as a partial timber-framed building appears to be unique in the archaeological record from the county. The range of crops identified provides physical evidence of what is recorded in historical documents from the period, but also suggests others. The Internet Archaeology report includes primary data on the botanical remains to allow readers to interrogate the information for further (and perhaps different) insights.

The fieldwork was undertaken on behalf of Waddeton Park Ltd in advance of the construction of new housing by Bovis Homes.

people excavating the site


Volunteers’ Day at Cirencester

On 9th March Cotswold Archaeology held a thank-you day for volunteers who work in the Cirencester office. After a busy year of hard toil we thought it was about time that we thanked our brilliant volunteers by treating them to a series of talks from some of our experts.

A woman (osteologist) giving a talk in front of a small audience sitting around the table. Screen with a slideshow in the backgroundThe talks focussed on archaeological projects the volunteers had worked on, whilst others looked at museum store projects also involving volunteers. Some talks were just an excuse to look at recent amazing finds we have been working on! This is always a special occasion for staff and volunteers alike.

Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds but all have a love of archaeology. We train our volunteers in a number of tasks, usually introducing them to things they might never have tried before. Our projects range from working on skeletons from Anglo-Saxon execution cemeteries to preparing finds from large city-centre sites for museum deposition. We also run museum store projects where volunteers help local museums assess what they hold and the best way to preserve their collections for the future.

The talks were followed up by ‘a good spread’. Sandwiches and fizzy pop were consumed whilst beautiful (and carefully handled) artefacts were admired. Although we have had to temporarily suspend our volunteer programme at Cirencester, we are looking forward to further exciting volunteer projects and the next thank-you day for volunteers!

Hazel O’Neill

a group of volunteers posing in front of a CA banner


Mesolithic and Bronze Age remains at Roman Way, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Bourton-on-the-Water is a place well-known for its long history of settlement stretching back to before the Romans, a longevity perhaps partly due to its location near the confluence of the rivers Windrush and Dikler in the wider Thames catchment of the Cotswolds. There is evidence for an earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosure under the better known fortified enclosure of Salmonsbury Camp, which has Iron Age and Roman remains; and to the west of the modern town a Roman roadside settlement straddled the major road, Fosse Way, where it crossed the Windrush.

Since the 1990s, excavations by Cotswold Archaeology and others have brought to light Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon features as well as more Iron Age and Roman ones. A report on our excavations at The Cotswold School in 2011, authored by Jon Hart, Jonny Geber and Neil Holbrook, has been recently published in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (volume 134). Here, part of an early to middle Iron Age settlement and a later Roman cemetery were excavated.

Bronze Age inhumation graveexcavated female skull showing remains of a copper object The story of human occupation at Bourton has now been added to by discoveries from further CA investigations in 2015 at Roman Way on the northern side of the town.  Here, Mark Brett and his team found a small group of burials comprising two inhumations and ten cremations. These were without pots or accompanying grave goods, although one of the inhumations, of an older woman, was buried apparently wearing a rare type of lead hair ornament (see above), and had a completely corroded copper object (shown only by green staining on the skull) by her right ear.  A series of seven radiocarbon dates on bone, modelled using Bayesian statistics by Frances Healy and Elaine Dunbar showed that both the inhumations and cremations dated to between c. 1485–1245 and 1285–1065 cal. BC (at 95% probability), in the middle Bronze Age. The inhumations and cremations were shown to have been contemporary with each other, which is unusual but not unique, as inhumation had been largely replaced by cremation by this time.

quarted excavated cremation pit with scale and north arrowThe cremations are quite typical of the middle Bronze Age. The bone, together with charcoal from the pyre, filled the width of the grave pit indicating an absence of a container of any sort for the bone (see left). It is probable that the pyres were located not far away, but there was no evidence for them. It is interesting that the wood used in most of the pyres was alder, and insect tunnels in some of the charcoal showed that the wood, which is normally not favoured as fuel, had been seasoned to make it sufficiently combustible. Of the other cremations, one used oak and another ash. The fuelwood used for Bronze Age cremations tends to be of a single taxon, with oak usually preferred. Differences in fuel wood have been found elsewhere and it has been suggested that the choice of different species may have been motivated by concerns other than immediate availability, such as the need to follow specific ritual practices. The lack of information on gender or other variables from the cremated bone makes this suggestion impossible to explore at Roman Way.

half excavated mesolithic postholeAnother discovery, lying 50m to the north-east, and rarer and more unexpected than the middle Bronze Age burial ground, was a curving alignment of three large postholes. The holes were about a metre across and half a metre or more deep, with clear post-pipes indicating posts of up to half a metre in diameter (see right).  They were without artefacts and initially suspected to be associated with the burial ground, perhaps serving as marker posts. However, a radiocarbon sample from a deposit of charred hazelnut shells at the base of one of the pits returned a date of 8470–8295 cal. BC, placing it in the early Mesolithic. Two further dates were subsequently obtained: one on hazelnut shell from the first posthole (8530–8295 cal. BC) was virtually identical to the first date, and the other on hazel charcoal from a different posthole was slightly later, at 8221–7961 cal. BC (all at 95% probability). These dates give a very strong indication that the giant postholes were indeed early Mesolithic and as such represent one of the earliest human-made structures yet found in Britain. The group is comparable to three postholes found beneath Stonehenge car park, radiocarbon dated to the 9th to 7th millennia BC, although the Stonehenge features were slightly larger; they are thought to have held posts of pine rising some 3-4m above the contemporary ground surface. Interpretation at both sites is, of course, a matter of conjecture, although something akin to totem poles may be envisaged.

The Excavation Report for the site at Roman Way is available for download, with a summary publication in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (volume 135).

By coincidence, Professor Tim Darvill, Chairman of the Board Trustees of Cotswold Archaeology, has been undertaking his own research on Mesolithic ‘monuments’ of this sort. They are rare but may be more common than has been supposed because, in the absence of any early Mesolithic artefacts, radiocarbon dating (where this is indeed possible) may be the only way of recognising them for what they are.

Andy Mudd


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)