Filming with Tern TV for Channel 4’s “Bone Detectives: Britain’s Buried Secrets”

In 2019, CA was contacted by the production company Tern TV, who had been commissioned to create a new series of programmes to be aired on Channel 4, specifically investigating the post-excavation side of sites where human remains had been found.

The cemetery CA excavated in 2016 at Weyhill in Andover was an ideal candidate. The site had all the elements needed for a TV programme.  There was a question to investigate – was this an execution cemetery? And we had a wealth of evidence with which to explore this question – scientific analysis using isotopes and radiocarbon dating had been undertaken, documentary sources exist, and of course we have the bones themselves.

CA osteoarchaeologist Sharon Clough had undertaken the analysis of the bones, so Tern TV asked Sharon to come into the studio and film with the series presenters, Tori Herridge and Carla Valentine. Project Officer Jeremy Clutterbuck, who had led the excavation, was invited to film on location in what is now a supermarket carpark. In fact, the hashtag #carparkdetectives became a theme during production of the series due to the number of sites which are now, or were once, carparks!

studio in BelfastThe studio was in Belfast, so Sharon was flown out to spend two and a half very long days filming in July, on what were some of the hottest days of the summer – with the baking weather and studio lights combined, it was unbearably hot! With little prior TV work (except for an episode of Time Team as a digger), this was a relatively new experience for Sharon, with a steep learning curve, although Tori and Carla were very supportive and helpful, as were the rest of the production company.

Taking part in the series provided a fantastic opportunity to present to the public the sobering story of this fantastic site, allowing it to reach a far wider audience than public lectures alone.

The episode will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 8PM on Saturday 25th January 2020 and will subsequently be available on Catch Up. We hope you enjoy the it – watch this space for news about our forthcoming book about the site!

Cotswold Archaeology Nominated for Three Current Archaeology Awards!

The nominations for the 2020 Current Archaeology Awards have just been announced, and we are proud to say that this year CA has been nominated for not one, not two, but THREE awards, each in separate categories! Voting is now live, so please vote for CA at the Current Archaeology website. You can vote for all three if you wish…

An Anglo-Saxon Enigma: Encountering a Cherished Cotswold Child

Current archaeology awards logoIn the Rescue Project of the Year category, we have been nominated for Exercise Shallow Grave. This excavation was undertaken as part of the Ministry of Defence initiative, Operation Nightingale, and was a collaboration between Cotswold Archaeology, Breaking Ground Heritage, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Gloucestershire County Council.

Operation Nightingale was developed to use archaeology to aid in the recovery of injured and sick military service personnel and veterans. In May 2019, the Shallow Grave team excavated the site of a recently discovered Anglo-Saxon inhumation burial, which was highly fragile and located close to the surface, and was thus at risk of further damage or illicit disturbance. The excavation resulted in the discovery of a remarkable small group of Anglo-Saxon inhumation burials, including the grave of a child buried with an astonishing assemblage of grave-goods. You can read more about the discoveries in our previous story about the excavation.

Excavating Myths and Monsters: The Boxford Mosaic Revealed

Current archaeology awards logoOur continuing work at Boxford, in Berkshire, has been nominated in the Best Research Project of the Year category. The project is a collaboration with the Boxford History Project and Berkshire Archaeology Research Group, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In summer 2019 we returned to the site of the now famous Boxford mosaic, initially uncovered in 2017, which depicts scenes from Greek Mythology including Bellerophon slaying the chimera. This year’s excavation allowed the full mosaic floor to be uncovered and recorded, and the results have been truly astounding. Further elements of the imagery on the mosaic have been revealed, showing a greater array of tales from Greek Mythology, and we also now have a better understanding of the development of the villa building in which the mosaic was placed.

Life and Death in the Countryside of Roman Britain

Current archaeology awards logoLast but not least, we are thrilled to have been nominated for our collaborative book, ‘Life and Death in the Countryside of Roman Britain’. This volume is the third and final volume in the ‘New Visions of the Countryside of Roman Britain’ series; it deals with the rural people of Roman Britain…how they looked, lived, worshiped, died, and how they were treated in death. Cotswold Archaeology was a major partner in this hugely successful Leverhulme Trust funded project, along with the University of Reading, the Archaeology Data Service and Historic England. CA’s Neil Holbrook acted as a series editor for the volumes, and the volume was co-authored by our very own Tom Brindle (Post-Excavation Manager). More information about the project is available on the ADS website, where you can download free PDFs of volume 1 and volume 2 in the series, and access the online database.

Voting closes on 10th February 2020, and the winners will be announced at the Current Archaeology Live! 2020 conference, to be held at the University of London’s Senate House on 28-29 February – more information on the conference can be found at

We’d be grateful for your votes!

Execution Cemetery Excavated at the Aldi Site, Weyhill, Andover

Talk by Jeremy Clutterbuck on the Execution Cemetery Excavated at the Aldi Site, Weyhill, Andover

On 9th September 2019, CA’s Jeremey Clutterbuck gave a talk to WARG, the society for Winchester archaeology and local history, about the Execution Cemetery discovered at the Aldi Site at Weyhill, Andover. WARG member Iris Gould has provided us with this wonderful overview of Jeremy’s presentation.

Jeremy Clutterbuck is an Osteoarchaeologist and a Project Officer for Cotswold Archaeology.  He was also, for 14 Years, lead singer with a group called Rock of Ages. Yes, really. Jeremy said that presenting helps him toward a deeper insight into his field of study so he welcomed the opportunity to deliver this talk to WARG.

Cotswold Archaeology’s excavation of the site was funded by the supermarket Aldi, in accordance with the requirement for commercial archaeology to be funded by the developer. It had not previously been known that the cemetery existed. Jeremy said that, as an osteoarchaeologist, he was very excited at the discovery of a graveyard containing over 124 bodies but he was determined to stay calm. Time was short as the developer was eager to proceed with the building of the store.

Weyhil aldi site excavations

According to Andrew Reynolds, an authority on execution sites, the location of the graveyard exhibits the key characteristics of an execution cemetery:

  • A confluence of different boundaries, straddling the route of the Roman Road from Silchester to Old Sarum, bisected by the ancient Harroway ridgeway and lying on the boundary of both the Hundred – the Anglo-Saxon administrative unit – and the Parish. The site overlooks the river Anton.
  • Evidence of a long history of occupation in the area.
  • It is thought that Weyhill may have been the location of a pre-Christian worship site, an important place to visit, in a prominent position.
  • Historically, kings had come with their entire retinues to meet at Andover and it is possible that justice was carried out during those visits.

In modern times only ploughed fields could be seen but latterly a garage was built on the site. Amazingly, said Jeremy, “the best stuff survived”.

The skeletal remains in the graveyard were carefully analysed and the group was found to be “very unusual indeed”. Where sex could be determined, all the individuals were adult males and were under 35 when they died. This is not what would be expected of a ‘typical’ cemetery but is consistent with the profile of an execution cemetery. Further evidence for the nature of the site came from the injuries sustained by many of the individuals, which strongly suggested that they had been executed. Several had cut marks on their necks or had been decapitated, with the skull placed separately within the grave. One man had his hands cut off at the wrist and placed underneath his body, whilst others had their hands tied together along with fractures suggesting death by hanging. Some graves were too small for the skeletons placed within them, and they were crammed into the space. One skeleton was found with a sheep placed above it.

A silver coin of Aethelred II
A silver coin of Ethelred II

A programme of radiocarbon dating suggests that the cemetery was in use for an unusually long period of time. Most of the individuals were buried between the 9th and 12th centuries AD and one burial appears to have been as late as the 13th or 14th centuries. Andover is the only known execution graveyard site where such longevity exists and it has the largest number of executions so far known. This argues for a degree of stability, which enabled such continuity to exist. Even during times of upheaval, the judicial process continued, overseen by shire-reeves, or sheriffs. Jeremy revealed that the reigning monarchs ranged from Egbert (802–839) to Edward III (1327–1377).  Isotopic analysis shows that the bodies were all of local people, except one who may have been of Nordic origin. Early Anglo-Saxon deviant burial sites formed part of larger graveyards but by the time of the Weyhill burials they were kept separate.

Evidence of gallows has been found and there are local references to a “Hangman’s Field”.
Very few artefacts were recovered from the cemetery. A few buckles were found and a silver coin of Ethelred II (Ethelred the Unready) was clutched in the hand of one skeleton, which had been buried lying face down, apparently tossed into the grave.

The discovery of this site marks the beginning of a search for documentary evidence to shed light on the judicial system that gave rise to this disturbing cemetery. There is a similar site at Stockbridge Down and it is hoped that further excavations can take place there. A monograph is to be published in February 2020 and a programme about the Weyhill site is to be aired on Channel 4.

Whilst the subject matter was extremely grim, Jeremy’s clear and well-informed delivery made this an extremely interesting talk.

Author: Iris Gould, WARG

The article comes from the WARG’s Autumn 2019 newsletter (p. 9-11).


Discovery of a Roman fort under Exeter bus station

Cotswold Archaeology’s Exeter team have recently completed fieldwork at Exeter Bus station, which has unexpectedly revealed evidence for an early Roman military fort to the east of the city’s historic core.

Roman ditch under excavation The invading Roman army established a legionary fortress at Exeter in around AD 55. The fortress was complemented by several smaller forts/defended military depots, including at least two on the line of Topsham Road, which was a major supply route into Roman Exeter from ports to the south. After the army decamped for South Wales in c. AD 75, the fortress was superseded by a walled civilian town (Isca Dumnoniorum), which served as the regional capital.

The bus station site lies to the east of Exeter’s Roman city walls and some 0.5km north-east of the main military fortress (now under the Cathedral Green). Sidwell Street, which was the main Roman road entering the city from the east, runs parallel to and 100m north-west of the site’s northern boundary.

The redevelopment of the bus station site will see the demolition of the existing bus station buildings (constructed in the 1960s) and the construction of a new bus station and leisure complex.

Our archaeological investigation revealed two large, parallel, early Roman ditches, associated with a previously-unknown military fort or defended compound. The inside of this fort would have been to the west of the ditches, under the existing bus station buildings.

Both ditches had steep, V-shaped profiles, with deep ankle breaker trenches along their bases. The inner (western) ditch was the largest and deepest of the pair, reaching up to 1.8m in depth; this is likely to have been considerably deeper prior to 20th-century truncation. The fills of the inner ditch indicated that an earthen rampart stood along its western edge. This ditch had a near vertical outer side, which was designed to trap any attackers who got this far, leaving them at the mercy of defenders on the rampart above.

The ditches were cut across by later Roman (i.e. civilian) ditches, which apparently defined the rear boundaries of plots that presumably fronted onto Sidwell Street.

The discovery of another new Roman fort at Exeter demonstrates the pivotal role that the area played during the first decades of the Roman conquest. It also shows just how much of the city’s history can still survive in areas previously considered to have low potential due to damage caused by bombing and extensive 20th-century development.

Derek Evans

Roman military fort excavation site

Late Bronze Age ringwork in East Devon

Cotswold Archaeology’s excavations at Hill Barton, Exeter, which finished in 2015, are on the way to being fully published. One aspect of the site was the discovery of a Late Bronze Age ringwork enclosure with a central roundhouse whose rarity in the region has prompted the publication of a summary article in the Prehistoric Society’s Autumn edition of The Past newsletter (pages 14-16).

The enclosure, measuring 37 m across and defined by a deep ditch, was one element of a complex of archaeological features on the site dating from the Neolithic through to the Roman period. The enclosure ditch contained very few artefacts – just eight sherds of residual Early to Middle Neolithic pottery, two sherds of Trevisker Ware and a small quantity of worked flints – none of which provided dating for the enclosure itself. However, the ditch and central features yielded charcoal, from which a series of 12 radiocarbon samples gave consistent dating. The earliest dates fell around 1100 cal BC (from the basal ditch fills) with a more or less continuous sequence of ditch infilling until c. 600 cal BC when the enclosure went out of use. This conclusively demonstrates a major episode of occupation starting in the Late Bronze Age and continuing until the Early Iron Age for which there was very little other evidence.

A report on all the findings from the excavations is to be published in forthcoming volume 77 of Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society.

Hill Barton ringwork


Operation Nightingale Exercise Shallow Grave

Exercise Shallow Grave
Excavating the Shallow Grave

santacusCotswold Archaeology, in collaboration with Operation Nightingale, Breaking Ground Heritage, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), undertook a unique excavation in the Cotswolds in May 2019. A few years previously, metal objects associated with an Anglo-Saxon burial had been found by a metal detectorist who reported his discovery promptly, leading to a small-scale investigation by GCC. That investigation was limited in scope and sought to contextualise the initial finds and advise the landowner on future land management; the remains were mostly left in situ.

However, it was recognised that the remains of the burial were vulnerable to deterioration or removal by illicit means, and earlier this year it was chosen the site of an Operation Nightingale project, and given the name ‘Exercise Shallow Grave’. As part of our programme of outreach and community work, Cotswold Archaeology supplied professional staff for free to assist participants in the project, which uses archaeology to aid in the recovery and mental wellbeing of wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans, to fully recover the burial.

Burial under excavation during Operation Nightingale project
One of the burials during excavation

Aided by a grant from the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, the project revealed not only the known burial, but two further burials and also evidence of Roman activity. The known burial was discovered to be lying at the top of a shallow ditch. No evidence for a burial mound survived and consequently it was covered by only 14cm of topsoil, a factor probably contributing to the poor preservation of artefacts and bone. The individual was found to have been aged between 7 and 11 years old at time of death, most probably between 9 and 10 years. For their relatively young age, it was surprising that they were buried with a sword, a shield, two glass vessels, a knife on a decorated belt and a silver drinking vessel, possibly similar to the Taplow Cup. The grave furnishings seem incongruous with such a young age and with a burial at the top of a ditch. Further investigations hope to understand the wider landscape; perhaps the individual was buried in an earlier structure, respected by the later community?

Anglo-Saxon glass bowl
Anglo-Saxon glass bowl recovered during Exercise Shallow Grave

In contrast to the shallowness of the known burial, the grave of an adult was found cut into the natural limestone to a depth of c. 30cm. The individual was accompanied by an antler prong, two amethyst beads at the head, a silver brooch, a knife and a stone spindlewhorl. Interestingly, despite the typically ‘female’ selection of grave goods, analysis of the bones suggest that the remains are those of a male aged over 30 years, and possibly over 40 years; a reminder to archaeologists not to make judgements based on artefactual evidence alone!

This work has proved incredibly interesting, both in terms of the fascinating archaeology and our first venture with Operation Nightingale. The site is already one of the most important Anglo-Saxon burials known from this part of Gloucestershire and we hope to secure further funding to explore more of this fascinating Anglo-Saxon landscape, whilst also promoting wellbeing for our participants, in 2020.

Katie Marsden

Operation Nightingale, Exercise Shallow Grave team
Exercise Shallow Grave team

Exercise Shallow Grave has been nominated for Current Archaeology Awards in the Rescue project of the Year category. Vote now!