News

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 The range of crops identified provides physical evidence of what is recorded in historical documents from the period, but also suggests others.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)


CA’s Milton Keynes office relocates to bigger premises

On the morning of Friday 5th January it was all hands on deck as we prepared for the MK office relocation from Kiln Farm to larger premises at Stonebridge (a grand distance of 3 miles).

a row of boxes stanging next to the wallAcross the office could be heard panicked cries of “Do we have to label EVERYTHING?!”, “I’ve run out of stickers!” and “What’s my ID number again?”. But amidst this there was the joy (?!) of rediscovering long-lost and long-forgotten items buried in desk drawers: a tin containing crumbs of ancient flapjack (Nathan), a plastic tiara from a colleague’s birthday party (Liz), novelty sound-effects toys (Hannah), and those ‘emergency’ tinned pears… (Dr Mark).

Over the weekend the office relocation company (supported by Pete and Sarah) worked their magic, bringing everything across to the new office and leaving it all in the correct place. After some minor technical and practical glitches on Monday morning (including a temporary absence of toilet roll), we are now more or less settled and enjoying the extra space and facilities (ground floor warehouse space for fieldwork and post-excavation, a larger kitchen with seating area, additional toilets and showers).

Thanks to Alli, Pete, Zak, Vicki and Jinny for organising the logistics!

a group of people (MK team) standing in the new office

 


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!