In memory of Andrew Lyle – Boxford 2017

Over the weekend we heard the very sad news that Andrew Lyle, one of our long-standing volunteers on the Boxford project, passed away on Saturday morning. Matt Nichol, who worked with Andrew on the project, has these words to say about him.

Andrew Lyle was an incredibly hard working, funny and passionate local Boxford guy whose contribution to the Boxford dig over the years was immense. He was a great team member -always upbeat, always keen to muck in with the heavy excavation, and on quite a few occasions over years I was invited around to his house after a day’s digging for drinks and a meal with he and his wife Tina.

During the very first season in 2013, after the excavation had ended, I was invited around to Andrew’s house so I could complete all site paperwork with another volunteer who had kindly offered to help; he went on to study a degree in archaeology (and became a military officer in the TA). Both volunteers influenced that season of excavation, but Andrew would take this one step further – he was a great cook and entertainer. I will never forget that evening especially.

Ever since 2013, Andrew and I had a running joke together – that I would find him a mosaic. But none of us could ever have foreseen this year’s findings. Andrew’s health was not at all good during this season’s work. However, although in great pain and unable to walk properly, on at least four occasions Andrew managed to make it on to site and contribute for a few hours each time. He was one of the first people to reveal the beautiful colours of the mosaic. I am very proud to have been part of such an incredible season alongside all who took part, but to have given Andrew such a fantastic opportunity to reveal the first colours of the mosaic is a moment I can’t really put into words. We smiled, hugged, shook hands and joked together about the mosaic’s discovery…

Andrew will be greatly missed.

Andrew Lyle

The photo has been provided courtesy of Lindsey Bedford

We are seeking new trustees

Cotswold Archaeology is a registered educational charity, and as such it is governed by a Board of Trustees who also serve as Non-Executive Company Directors. We now have up to three vacancies on our Board and would like to hear from people who are interested in being considered as a Trustee.

 We are particularly looking for people who have experience and expertise in the following areas:

  • Archaeology / heritage
  • Business development / marketing & promotion / business-to-business selling
  • Property development / construction / land use planning

Applications from women and early career professionals are particularly welcome, as they are currently under represented on our Board. We are also particularly interested in people who live or have worked in the areas served by our Andover, Exeter or Milton Keynes offices.

Trustees typically contribute 4-8 days annually to the affairs of the Trust and involve attendance on between two and five meeting days per annum. Most meetings take place in Kemble, near Cirencester, and occur during the working day. At least one meeting per year takes place at one of our other offices (Andover, Exeter or Milton Keynes). Outside of Board meetings liaison is conducted by email and telephone.

No remuneration is offered for performing the duties of a Trustee, although all reasonable expenses will be reimbursed.

You can find out more about Cotswold Archaeology on our About Us page.

 If you think you might be interested in this opportunity please contact us by email at or telephone Liam Coates on 01285 772610, and we will send you further information and details of how to register an expression of interest. The deadline for receipt of expressions of interest is 5pm on Friday 3 November 2017.


Stunning mosaic found in Roman Villa near Boxford

The project.

Since 2015 Cotswold Archaeology has been involved in a three year community archaeology project “Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage”. A joint project involving the BHP (Boxford History Project), the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group and CA, the project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved investigating three closely linked Roman sites near to the village of Boxford in West Berkshire.

Supported by our archaeologists, the local community groups and volunteers explored the function, status, chronology, extent and relationship of the three sites, which represented a significant focus of high-status Roman occupation in the Lambourn Valley. During the first year of the project such investigations uncovered a large villa and bath house, with a farmstead following in the second year. Following on from a successful two years, the final year of the project did not disappoint!

Roman Boxford Dig 2017.

Roman plunge pool
Roman plunge pool

This year kicked off to a great start, with finds recorded on the first day comprising a child’s bracelet and coins. Led by CA’s Matt Nichol, with the help of Agata, Alice, Keighley and Joe, the volunteers worked quickly to uncover the remains of the main villa, a probable barn, a gateway into the courtyard and other associated features. Finds also include Roman pottery and tile (one of which is complete and has an animal paw print), animal bone and much more. Although the villa was of modest size and of a common design, with a series of rooms adjoining a corridor running the full length of its front, it had evidently been subject to significant investment and upgrades over time. These included the addition of a bath suite with a small cold water plunge pool located in the corridor at the villa’s northern end. The most  spectacular addition, however, was a mosaic placed in a room at the southern end of the building.

Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.
Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.

The mosaic.

Our star find of the project was discovered during the initial stripping of the site, and measured over 6m in length. The mosaic comprised a highly decorated central panel surrounded by a plain border. Despite only one side of the mosaic being revealed within the trench, it is clear that the figurative mosaic is packed with mythical characters and beasts based on Greek legends.

Mosaic experts have visited the site and were explicit in their excitement and delight.  Anthony Beeson, one of the experts, said that:

 “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.”

Our own Roman expert, Neil Holbrook noted that:

“The mosaic is a truly important find. Not only is it a fantastic new piece of Roman art from Britain, but it also tells us about the lifestyle and social pretensions of the owner of the villa at Boxford. That person wanted to project an image of themselves as a cultivated person of taste – someone familiar with classical mythology and high Roman culture, despite the fact that their villa was of relatively modest size in a remote part of the Roman empire. While this person was most probably of British origin, they wanted to be regarded by their friends, neighbours and subservients as a proper Roman.”

Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic


For those interested in the iconography, Anthony Beeson suggests that the sideways scene may be interpreted as Bellerophon, a hero of Greek mythology, at the court of either Iobates or Proteus.

Bellerophon was sent to kill the chimera, a fire breathing monster with the head of a lion, the torso of a goat and a serpent’s tail.

The chimera illustrated on the mosaic at Boxford is one of only two known from Britain which turns back to attack in the traditional manner. The others all flee.

Other figures on the mosaic possibly include Hercules fighting a centaur, Cupid holding a wreath, and depictions of telamons in the corners, who appear to hold up the central panel.

Other examples of Romano-British Bellerophon mosaics are known from Frampton and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, Lullingstone in Kent and Croughton, near Brackley in Northamptonshire.

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

What now?

A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)
A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)

The Open Day last Saturday was attended by over 250 people who were able to view finds from the excavation, as well as the villa and mosaic. While the site has now been backfilled, it is hoped that future investigations will allow us to further our understanding of some of the features discovered, including the bath suite, and will reveal the mosaic in its entirety.

We have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in this project, and agree with the Chairman of the Boxford History Project who said: “Thanks to everyone who has contributed in any way to this amazing success. What a fantastic way to end this three-year project!

Steve Clark from the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group also commented “We’re very grateful for all the support provided by Neil Holbrook and Duncan Coe over the course of project and for the professionalism and patience of CA’s field staff in guiding us through the excavations. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have been led by somebody like Matt who has gone the extra mile to get the most out of our limited time on site each year”.

Our own Duncan Coe, who has been involved with the Boxford project for the last 6 years, stated that “this is one of the best examples of a project where a local community, local volunteer archaeologists and professional archaeologists have worked together to produce some truly inspiring results. We hope that the local community take away a greater understanding of the world around them and the time depth within the place they call home”.

For more information about the mosaic and dig go to:
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope

Vinegar Hill battlefield, Co. Wexford

In August 2017 a small team from CA’s Andover office travelled to County Wexford in Ireland to undertake a licenced metal detector survey on the Irish Rebellion battlefield of Vinegar Hill (1798). The project was an international collaboration, funded by Wexford County Council and working with archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage, Earthsound Geophysics and IT Sligo to research this important and iconic Irish site. The research project is the largest and most comprehensive ever undertaken on an Irish battlefield, and a great privilege for CA to be a part of.

Surveying underway

The survey methodology involved the application of systematic metal detecting techniques that have been utilised to great success on many British and European battlefields. This enabled a consistent and comparable recovery of unstratified scatters of metal objects that had been fired, used or dropped during the battle across different parts of the site. As objects were recovered they were allocated unique finds numbers and plotted with a sub-cm GPS, enabling a complete digital plot of the artefacts to be built and the identification of trends and patterns within the assemblage.

Within five minutes on day one the first musket ball appeared! By the end of the week a large number had been found, some dropped during reloading in the middle of the battle and some heavily impacted from striking something solid after firing. Other recovered finds included a number of pieces of ‘weapon furniture’ – broken fittings from muskets and pistols perhaps suggestive of close combat, shrapnel from shells used to bombard the hill, and numerous buttons and coins which may have originated from the Irish camp on the hill in the weeks leading up to the battle.

A small selection of the recovered musket balls
A small selection of the recovered musket balls

By the end of the week, the team had covered a large part of the battlefield and by examining the relative concentrations of material across the surveyed area, it is tentatively possible to identify the location where one of the main British assaults advanced up the hill. A great deal of additional research is still to be done on the finds assemblage, in order to identify and isolate different calibre weapons and understand the scatter of material in greater detail. However, it is already clear how important the results are for Irish battlefield archaeology. By participating in the project, it has been possible to demonstrate the huge benefit of applying a systematic archaeological approach to the study of these sites in Ireland and the new information battlefield archaeology can reveal for even a well-studied site. As the first major project of its kind, it represents a huge leap forward for Irish battlefield archaeology, and is a site we hope to return to in the future.

Sam Wilson

A piece of anti-personnel grape shot
A piece of anti-personnel grape shot
A recovered musket 'hammer' compared to a modern display musket
A recovered musket ‘hammer’ compared to a modern display musket
Ramrod guide, probably from a British brown bess musket
Ramrod guide, probably from a British brown bess musket
Mortar bomb fragment with fuse hole
Mortar bomb fragment with fuse hole

Excavation at Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey Location planCotswold Archaeology has recently undertaken an excavation at Bath Abbey as part of Phase One of Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project, a major programme to repair the Abbey’s collapsing floor, install an eco-friendly heating system using energy from Bath’s hot springs, and create new spaces and facilities which will enable the Abbey to improve its worship, hospitality and service to the community, visitors and the city of Bath. As part of Phase 1 of the Footprint project, some initial excavation work took place earlier this year to shore up the foundations and to create some of the new underground spaces along the south side of the building, just outside the Abbey shop (known as the Jackson extension).

Rather than creating the underground spaces from scratch, the Abbey was able to use a small area of former cellars which date from the late 1750s. These became infilled when several buildings, known as the Kingston Buildings, were demolished around 1834 and the resultant rubble used to backfill the cellars. The first stage of work involved the monitoring, by Cotswold Archaeology, of the mechanical removal the cellar infill down to the old cellar floors. Following this, CA commenced removal, by hand excavation, of the deposits underlying the former cellar floors down to the construction level required for the new store rooms.

The excavation uncovered a compacted gravel and stone construction deposit which had been laid down in a single event, although it had been compacted into several layers during its deposition. This deposit may have formed a rafted foundation for construction of the Norman Abbey; a wall footing relating to the Norman Abbey was recorded overlying this deposit in the edge of the trench. However, similar deposits were uncovered during earlier works at the adjacent Roman Baths, where they were believed to be the base of a Roman podium associated with the Roman Baths and Temple complex. The southern edge of the deposit had been cut away by a trench whose location suggested it had been excavated to rob stones from a wall associated with the deposit.

Gravel and stone construction deposit with probable Norman Abbey wall in upper right hand corner of photo
Gravel and stone construction deposit with probable Norman Abbey wall in upper right hand corner of photo

The base of a wooden coffin, which had been heavily disturbed by the construction of the later cellar in the late 1750s, lay to the south of the robber trench. Any skeletal remains were probably removed and re-buried at that time, as only three small fragments of bone were found within the remains of the coffin. Several coffin nails, and a possible coffin plate, were associated with the remains of the coffin – a large piece of which was recovered intact. The coffin is likely to be of 17th-century date or earlier. Another probable burial lay adjacent though was not excavated as it lay beyond the required limits of the excavation.

Recovery of the largest surviving piece of the coffin
Recovery of the largest surviving piece of the coffin

A mortar surface, identified in the deepest part of the trench, was likely associated with a cellar of the Abbey House, which was constructed in the 17th century to accommodate visitors to Bath. At some stage this cellar was infilled with a large amount of residual Roman material, and around 1750 new cellars were constructed when several houses, depicted on 18th-century mapping as the ‘Kingston Buildings’ abutting the south-west corner of the Abbey, were constructed. These cellars featured several light wells and at least two fireplaces. They were infilled in the early 1830s when the Kingston Buildings were demolished prior to construction of the moat around the Abbey.

Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology

As part of the recent ‘Festival of Archaeology’ events, on Saturday (29th July) Cotswold Archaeology attended ‘Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology’ day held by Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery at the Blaise Castle Estate in Bristol, where thankfully the weather held off and a brilliant day really was had by all.

Ca stall - Festival of ArchaeologyCotswold Archaeology took over the Victorian Classroom (complete with canes!!) with displays and finds from recent excavations at Ding’s Crusaders in Lockleaze, and Glassfields in Bristol city centre. The finds from Dings, including jewellery, coins, worked bone hairpins and a cosmetic spoon proved very popular and lots of interested locals were able to find out more about the site.

The history of the Glassfields site as a Whisky Distillery also sparked interest from many Bristolians, who were amused to find out that the whisky they had once produced was ‘bland’, ‘highly suspect’ and contained added methylated spirits!!

making Roman broochesIn keeping with the Roman finds on display, children were able to turn their hand to making their own Roman brooches, complete with gemstones. Several different brooches were available and CA’s ‘Dannicus’ logo was a popular choice. CA staff helped with the creation of over 120 very colourful brooches, and even managed to find the time to adorn themselves.

Jessica Cook