News

A 1st Century Funerary Enclosure at Barnwood, Gloucestershire

Cotswold Archaeology has just completed a full report on the findings from a site excavated in 2014 at Barnwood, ahead of redevelopment, funded by Barnwood Construction Ltd. The excavations produced evidence for quarrying associated with the initial construction of Roman Ermin Street in the mid 1st-century AD, along with a funerary enclosure containing the remains of a cremated individual, possibly an adult male, perhaps a soldier or veteran of the Roman army. Amongst the many finds recovered during the excavation is an internationally important assemblage of samian pottery.

Sherds from a decorated samian vessel from one of the quarry pits
Sherds from a decorated samian vessel from one of the quarry pits
A Roman military harness pendant recovered from one of the quarry pits
A Roman military harness pendant recovered from one of the quarry pits

The site is located immediately to the north of Barnwood Road, which follows the alignment of Roman Ermin Street. This road ran from the early Roman legionary fortresses at Kingsholm and Gloucester (later the colonia of Glevum) south-eastwards to Cirencester (Roman Corinium).  The earliest features recorded were a series of roadside quarry pits, probably dug to extract gravel used in the construction of the road. These pits were dated by samian pottery to between AD 40 and 70, indicating that Ermin Street was constructed as a metalled road within three decades of the Roman Conquest of AD 43. One of these pits contained a remarkable assemblage of finds, including hundreds of sherds of decorated samian, amphorae, vessel glass and metal objects. These include military harness fittings and a possible situla or ‘camp kettle’. Notably, the samian pottery is unused, as many of the base sherds retain the grits used to prevent vessels from fusing together in the kiln. This suggests that the assemblage is dominated by discarded stock, rather than being evidence for domestic occupation. Potters’ stamps on the samian provide a Neronian date range for the deposit, probably during the AD 60s.

After the construction of Ermin Street, a series of ditches with a central alignment of postholes was established, running at right-angles to the road. These were perhaps plot boundaries for a market garden. These features were within a large rectangular ditched enclosure, although it is somewhat unclear whether this enclosure was contemporary with the plot boundaries or slightly later. The garden plots were short-lived, as in the south-east corner of the large enclosure they were cut by a small (approximately 10m x 10m) square ditched enclosure; this contained a series of postholes indicating a square internal timber-built structure. Within the centre of this structure there was a number of pits, one of which contained a lead urn (an ossuarium) that held the cremated human remains of a possible adult male aged between 36 and 45. Another pit contained nails and hobnails, along with the remains of burnt broad beans and peas, perhaps part of a ritual food offering associated with funerary activity. The burial rite and use of a lead ossuarium strongly suggest that the individual had military connections and was perhaps a soldier or veteran of the Roman army.

lead urn (ossuarium) which contained the cremated remains of a possible Roman soldier
lead urn (ossuarium) which contained the cremated remains of a possible Roman soldier

While precise dating evidence for the cremation burial was scarce, an unstratified partially melted glass vessel, of a type commonly used as pyre goods during the 1st-century AD, is likely to relate to the funerary activity.

Subsequent activity at the site included a probable drainage ditch following the alignment of Ermin Street, which had been dug through the quarry pits in the late 1st or 2nd-century; the creation of probable roadside plots during the medieval period; and further quarrying during the medieval and post-medieval periods.

Together, the Roman-period evidence from Barnwood is highly indicative of a Roman military presence, yet the site is located approximately 3km away from both the legionary fortress at Kingsholm and its slightly later replacement at Gloucester. This raises the possibility that the activity was associated with an unknown military base in the Barnwood area, perhaps an auxiliary fort. If this were the case, could the unused samian stock and other finds deposited in the quarry pits be associated with clearance during the abandonment of such a fort, perhaps deliberately broken to prevent reuse or resale? There are, of course, multiple other potential explanations; maybe the group represents stock damaged in transit along Ermin Street and disposed of in a convenient open quarry pit, along with other waste from a nearby military establishment? Or perhaps the finds relate to a roadside funerary ritual involving the placement of broken up pottery in pits near the funerary enclosure? We can never be certain of the true reason the material was deposited as it was, yet the construction of various interpretative possibilities represents one of the joys of doing archaeology.

Roman vessel glass from one of the quarry pits
Roman vessel glass from one of the quarry pits
Part of a Roman amphora being excavated from one of the quarry pits
Part of a Roman amphora being excavated from one of the quarry pits
The copper-alloy ‘camp kettle’ after conservation
The copper-alloy ‘camp kettle’ after conservation

Excavation at Sizewell

Between December 2015 and February 2017 Cotswold Archaeology and Suffolk Archaeology jointly undertook a series of archaeological evaluations for EDF Energy Nuclear New Build at proposed development sites at Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast.

The first area to be investigated was Pillbox Field located just 350m west of the village of Sizewell. Sizewell had a burgeoning 13th-century settlement and was granted a market in 1237. Evidence from the medieval period was apparent within the trenches with a trackway and flanking ditches producing pottery dating from the 12th to 14th centuries. The remains of more recent activity can still be seen today, with an extant World War II pillbox located within field. During excavations a possible World War II command trench leading to the pillbox was also uncovered.

Photo of the Pillbox
Pillbox
Working shot of the kiln at Wickham
Working shot of the kiln at Wickham

After a short break, investigations turned to a site at Wickham Market, close to the previously known Roman settlement of Lower Hacheston. Excavations in the 1960s and early 1970s during construction of the A12 road uncovered a substantial Roman settlement, which appeared to be a continuation of an existing Iron Age site. These 20th-century excavations revealed that the settlement was occupied throughout the Roman period and was particularly associated with pottery production, with at least eight kilns excavated at the site. Our evaluation revealed Roman activity on the northern fringes of Lower Hacheston comprising domestic and industrial features, including another kiln (see left). The kiln had a domed clay-and-stone superstructure with two opposing flue arches and an internal pedestal. The use of the kiln appears to have been for the production of sand-tempered greyware vessels and was similar in design to those uncovered in the previous excavations. We also found a spread of dark material, which was probably a midden, or rubbish dump, for the settlement. A large number of finds came from this midden, including a coin from the reign of the Emperor Nero (AD 54 to-68) (see below, left) and a metal instrument that was probably used to get cosmetics out of bottles (see below, right). To the north of the Roman settlement, the evaluation revealed a wealth of archaeological evidence, including prehistoric cremations, Roman field systems and a trackway, and medieval enclosures.

Nero's as
Neronian as
Toilet scoop
Toilet scoop
Sunken Featured Building during excavation
Sunken-featured-building during excavation

Our next site was located on the eastern edge of the town of Leiston, where we found archaeological remains ranging from a prehistoric trackway with flanking ditches to more medieval enclosures. We were surprised to discover two Anglo-Saxon sunken-featured buildings (SFBs) in what was anticipated to be an area with little archaeology at the north end of the site (see left). SFBs were rectangular wooden structures, the majority of which seem to have had floors suspended over broad but shallow pits. They were prevalent in northern Europe from the 5th century AD and started to appear in Britain with the immigration of Germanic peoples in the later 5th and 6th centuries. Further evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement came from the remains of a rectangular post-built structure to the west of the SFBs. A series of later rectilinear enclosures dating to the medieval period were found on the northern and eastern boundaries of the site and may have been domestic plots fronting onto Valley Road and Lovers Lane respectively.

WWI button
WWI button

Our final site from this phase of fieldwork was located adjacent to the existing nuclear power station and produced features ranging from prehistoric ditches to the modern day use of the site. Medieval activity within the site appears to have occured at discrete points within the landscape, perhaps in connection to the establishment of the second Augustinian Abbey at Leiston during the 14th century. Sub-rectangular enclosures were identified, which often had a buried soil layer preserved within them, possibly suggesting that these were small farmsteads within Abbey land. Near these enclosures two large pits encompassing possible clay-built ovens or kilns were observed. Evidence for military use of the site in the 20th century was represented by a concrete post pad and a World War I uniform button (see above, right). This button is a general service button that was worn by soldiers of all regiments during the war.


Glassfields, Bristol

The Cirencester team has recently concluded an excavation undertaken in advance of development at Glassfields, Bristol. This site is located just to the east of the historic core of Bristol, close to the River Avon and Temple Meads railway station. It takes its name from its close proximity to a former Glassworks, located on the southern side of Avon Street (formerly Cheese Lane).

Excavating the domestic and industrial buildings
Excavating the domestic and industrial buildings

The excavations revealed a wide range of structures relating to both domestic and industrial occupation from the latter half of the 17th century through to the present day. These included cellars, wells, cess pits and walls relating to the Bristol Distillery, a producer of whisky up until the 1940s. Some very well preserved kilns, used for producing clay tobacco pipes in the 19th century, were also uncovered.

The heavily disturbed remains of an unusual circular structure
The heavily disturbed remains of an unusual circular structure

Prior to the 17th century, the site was open pasture land on the edge of the Avon. Before the development of this area a large amount of the underlying floodplain clay had been extracted via large pits, most likely to supply the brick kilns that were in operation nearby in the 17th century. These pits were then infilled with both domestic and industrial waste and the ground level raised to provide a dry area for occupation. Terraced domestic buildings were constructed fronting onto both Bread Street (now Old Bread Street) and Cheese Lane. In addition to the domestic dwellings an unusual stone circular structure was built within a larger, stone-founded, building with a slightly curved southern end and mortar floors. The original function of this building is unknown as unfortunately most of the stone was robbed at a later date, and subsequent buildings built across it. All that remains is a small triangular segment of stonework and the rubble filled circular shadow of the original structure, along with the parts of the mortar floor and outer walls of the building. One possibility is that the circular stone structure was the base for a large vat or ‘pug mill’ used for mixing clay and water to make the clay suitable for brick or pottery manufacture, or for mixing mortar. Within the vat would have been a pair of wheels or blades connected to a shaft that may have been turned by a horse or labourers walking on the mortar floors surrounding the perimeter of the circular structure.

Towards the middle part of the 17th century a warehouse was built over this structure, and this long narrow new building extended between Bread Street and Cheese Lane. It was acquired by The Bristol Distillery Company in 1782 and was used to store full whisky barrels prior to delivery. A large number of short, sturdy ‘sleeper walls’, used to support the floors can be clearly seen, especially to the west of this structure. Contemporary reports suggest that the whisky produced by the company was both ‘bland and tasteless’ and also ‘highly suspect’. Some of the immature whisky blends – which still contained some toxic elements – were ‘boosted with meths and creosote’ to give it the smoky taste of Scotch! The distillery building was destroyed in December 1940 during an enemy bombing raid. After this the entire site was cleared and for the latter part of the 20th century was used for commercial activity.

To the north of Bread Street three kilns were uncovered. Two of these formed a pair, brick-built and set within a semi-cellared room, behind a cobbled courtyard leading from Bread Street. The discovery of clay tobacco-pipe bowls with the stamp ‘JW’, coupled with documentary evidence, prove that these kilns were constructed by James Winchester at some time after 1837, and were operational until 1866. The kilns were used to fire clay tobacco pipes, popular at that time.

A third, smaller, stone-built kiln was also recorded close by. This kiln was set between two earlier property boundary walls and may also have been used for clay pipe manufacture – possibly James Winchester’s first kiln at the property in the 1830s.


CEO becomes President of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society

On Saturday 25th March, our Chief Executive Neil Holbrook became Chairman of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society for 2017/18, taking over from out-going president John Loosley.

The Society was founded in 1876, has over 800 members and promotes the study of history and archaeology in Bristol and the historic county of Gloucestershire. It publishes an annual journal which over the years has contained many reports on CA investigations. This year is no different, with the latest edition of the Transactions containing an article on a Roman cemetery excavated in Bourton-on-the-Water. One of the excavated skeletons showed evidence on the skull of trauma caused by a bladed instrument – as the injury never healed it looks like this person was murdered!

The Society’s presidential medal
The Society’s presidential medal

Neil said: ‘It is an honour to be made President of this long-established and well-respected Society. Individual membership is a mere £10 per year, and for that you get a copy of the annual Transactions which is packed full of interesting articles on archaeology and history. The Society always welcomes new members, so I hope we can help increase membership during my presidential year. My final duty in March 2018 will be to deliver a talk at the next Annual General Meeting, and I’m intending to look at a prominent archaeologist of the early 20th century who made a major contribution to our knowledge of Roman Cirencester. Given that the archaeology of Corinium has been a long-standing interest of mine since I came to Gloucestershire in 1991, it is only right that my talk will focus on one aspect of this fascinating subject.’

Neil Holbrook and John Loosley, out-going president of the Society
Neil Holbrook and John Loosley, out-going president of the Society

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.


Cotswold Archaeology at Stroud’s Museum in the Park

Cotswold Archaeology has just completed a scoping  and rationalisation study of the archaeology collection at The Museum in Park, Stroud. Hazel O’Neill (our Post-Excavation Supervisor at Kemble) and her team of volunteers audited and volunteers-exploring-stroud-museumphotographed almost 1000 boxes of finds and documentary archives, to allow the museum to better understand what they’re holding and how to store it safely.  Some of the sites dated back to the 1970s and featured some inventive on-site packaging!

While this project was running, other loyal CA volunteers have been continuing with their sterling efforts back at Kemble, in particular working on large amounts of finds recovered from excavations in the centre of Gloucester, and preparing these artefacts for deposition with the Museum of Gloucester.

sue-exploring-stroud-museumTo thank our amazing volunteers for their enduring hard work and support over the past year, on 7 February we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the stores of the Museum in the Park. Kindly led by Documentation & Collections Officer, Alexia Clark, the volunteers were treated to many sights, including the beautiful 18th-century book  ‘An Account of the Remains of a Roman Villa Discovered at Woodchester’ by Samuel Lysons, and the extremely rare bones of the dinosaur Megalosaurus Bucklandii. They also saw the patent for the world’s first lawnmower, and a desiccated cat that had been placed behind a chimney breast in a local mill to ward off evil spirits. It seemed to have worked, as the visit was followed up with tea and cake in the museum.

Hazel O’Neill

volunteers-visiting-stroud-museum