Brixworth: Industrialisation of the Countryside – 2000 years ago

We sometimes think of the Roman invasion of AD 43 as a great watershed, but in many ways a lot of the developments which we think of as Roman were actually a continuation of processes that begun in the Late Iron Age (from about 100 BC onwards). One of the trends we can detect in some (but not all) parts of Britain was a desire – or need – to grow more food and make more efficient use of the countryside. Our excavation in 2016 at Brixworth, Northamptonshire, for Barratt Homes provides a good example of this process in action.

Roman corn drying oven – perhaps used for malting to make beer
Roman corn drying oven – perhaps used for malting to make beer

From around 400 BC onwards a series of trapezoidal and sub-circular enclosures were constructed, associated with a large number of pits which were likely used for the storage of grain and other agricultural products. A lovely beehive quern demonstrates that grain was being turned into flour on the site. This activity continued seemingly unaffected by the Roman invasion and the site developed into a farm made up of a complex series of enclosures that were used either as places to live or for a variety of agricultural purposes, including crop processing. The construction of a large drying oven suggests an expansion of crop-processing activities in the later Roman period (roughly AD 200-400) and perhaps even brewing (the oven might have been used in the malting process).

The people who lived in Brixworth must have devoted much of their waking hours to agriculture on an almost industrial scale. Let’s hope they enjoyed their local beer when the day’s toil was over.
You can see some of the finds from Brixworth following the links below.

Metal artefacts from Brixworth
Quernstone from Brixworth

Excavating an Iron Age storage pit
Excavating an Iron Age storage pit
A finely-made stone-lined Iron Age water cistern – it is natural bedrock at the bottom
A finely-made stone-lined Iron Age water cistern – it is natural bedrock at the bottom


Wickham Archaeological Investigations

Since September 2018, Cotswold Archaeology has been carrying out archaeological investigations in Wickham, Hampshire. Working with developer Croudace Homes and Winchester City Archaeology, the investigations are being undertaken prior to the construction of a new residential development of 82 homes.

This is not the first time archaeologists have visited this site however, with work beginning in the late 1960s. These early investigations revealed evidence of Roman activity, including both domestic and industrial debris. Investigations in the early 21st century recorded late prehistoric pottery, and our investigations expand upon two previous phases of trial excavations undertaken in 2014 and 2018.

pottery from WickhamSince September our archaeologists have revealed the extent of Roman roadside settlement activity which is currently thought to have had its heyday within the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, perhaps as a kind of Roman ‘service-station’. We have uncovered evidence of post-built structures, multiple enclosure ditches and several large waste pits, from which we have found a wealth of pottery and other kiln debris. Amidst the Roman archaeology, Bronze Age cremations and worked-flint were also discovered, suggesting the presence of human activity in this area as early as the Mesolithic period.

As an educational charity, CA are dedicated to delivering outreach and community engagement programmes within the local area, using both on and off-site approaches and digital technology, to help widen access for engagement and participation. As part of our investigations at Wickham, an Open Day was due to be held on Saturday 24th November. Whilst our archaeologists are prepared for all weathers, in this instance severe wet weather compromised site safety and we unfortunately had to put a halt to the open day. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused and to all those planning to come along.

The past five months have revealed a fascinating insight into the history of this area. As we were unable to welcome you to the site in November, our Andover fieldwork team have made a fantastic on-site video to show you what we have been up to.

Information panels produced for the Open Day are available to download below.

Our investigations were initially due to be completed in December 2018 but, due to bad weather, we have been delayed. We will continue working on site into January 2019. Once we have finished, our specialists will analyse and record the information collected. We will then be able to build up a picture of the site, which we hope to share at another event in Wickham in 2019. Further details about this event will be available to view here soon.

people (archaeologists) standing, archaeological site in the background

New CA Reports Online website launched!

Many of you will already know of our ‘Reports Online’ website, the online library that makes freely available pretty much every CA fieldwork report that we’ve ever produced, with new reports added as they become publically available.

Frequent visitors may also have noticed that the website hadn’t been performing too well recently – due to the increasingly large number of reports hosted it had become rather slow to load. It also had a search form that wasn’t very user friendly and it didn’t work well on mobiles devices, so in 2018 we decided it was time to revamp the website – and we are pleased to announce that the new ‘Reports Online’ website was launched just before Christmas!

The new website is available at the same address ( or via our main CA website. It’s faster, better designed, has an improved keyword search and (we hope!) is far more user friendly, particularly if you are using a mobile device. But don’t just take our word for it – visit the site for yourself and let us know what you think of it. All feedback is gratefully received: we are committed to making our work as widely accessible as possible, so if you discover something isn’t quite right then please do let us know and we can try to fix it, just email

printscreen of the reports online website showing the search form and a map

An unusual lamp from a recently discovered villa at Stoke Gifford, South Gloucestershire

A recent website story described the recent discovery of a Roman villa and associated features at Stoke Gifford, South Gloucestershire. The most intriguing artefact recovered from the site is a highly unusual bronze lamp, which has been carefully examined by Anthony Beeson.

The lamp is clearly the most significant artefact recovered during the archaeological fieldwork and the form and subject appear, at present, to be unique. Several specialists have provided commentary on the find and no doubt the interpretation will develop as the post-excavation works proceed.

The unusual 1st century AD copper alloy lamp- six views
The unusual 1st century AD copper alloy lamp

Found during the original stripping of the site, it probably had found its way into a ditch at some time long after its manufacture in the 1st century AD. The bronze has a high lead content and so has a silvery appearance. It is quite well preserved although has suffered losses to the figure. Cast in one piece, its complex and hollow form makes it an extraordinary example of bronze-smithing. It is now missing its separately moulded and attached base together with the hands and head of the subject who wears a tunic and is shown sitting cross-legged.

Some have suggested that the hands may have been interchangeable attachments. The hands were placed at different levels as may be seen when viewed from the front. It is almost certainly an imported piece and may originate from the southern Mediterranean area, most likely from one of the specialist centres of lamp manufacture in the area of Naples, Corinth, or Alexandria. It appears to have been a hanging lamp, possibly one of several suspended from a candelabrum stand. One chain loop survives and another has been lost from behind the figure and possibly before it.

Roman lamp held in someone's handSeveral specialists have been approached as to the identity of the individual portrayed. The cross-legged pose of the figure and its wearing of a long-sleeved tunic has led to the interesting suggestion that the figure represents a Buddha. There was certainly contact between the Roman world and India at this period, although there are no known examples of Roman-made artefacts with Buddhist imagery and one wonders if the average affluent citizen would have been able to identify the subject.

The suggested Alexandrian provenance might perhaps indicate an Egyptian subject which might include the popular Bes. The excavators’ favoured interpretation was that the figure represents Silenus, the obese and drunken companion of Dionysus/Bacchus and part of the god’s retinue. Silenus was a popular figure in Roman art and a number of bronze lamps are known which incorporate him into the design, including an example from London. They often show him seated upon a wine skin (that forms the body of the lamp) or trying to drink from a bowl that is moulded from the lamp’s oil-hole. Typically he is shown nude, and often appears much older as Papposilenus, a corpulent bearded and balding figure. Silenus can be shown with the attributes of a wine cup, wine-skin or playing the lyre – and it has been suggested that the possibly interchangeable hands on this example featured such accessories.

The lamp is an exciting discovery. As an iconographer, my personal opinion of the figure is that I do not think that it can be equated with Silenus as neither the pose, nor the tunic favour the interpretation. Silenus is pot-bellied, generally mostly nude and this figure is not. Even given that the head was cast separately, there seems insufficient space for the beard of Silenus to fit into the space available between the shoulders and this area of the tunic shows no signs of soldering. The figure wears a voluminous and unbelted tunic but, when viewed from the side, is not corpulent. The same points also would rule out the fat and generally naked Bes as well. It actually gives me the impression that it is a young person. If it is from Alexandria then I would suggest that it is rather a genre figure from everyday life, as Alexandrian art adapted animals, children, slaves, street sellers etc as ornaments. The figure sits cross- legged in the traditional manner of an Egyptian scribe or musician, so again he could be either but perhaps the most likely interpretation is that the figure is reading a scroll by the light of the lamp (although writing a scroll is still a possibility).

Given the suggestion that the missing limbs may have been interchangeable it will be interesting if any signs of soldering the hands and head firmly in place survive. Possibly these might have been in some different material such as ivory, but I suspect they were much more likely to have been in bronze or another metal. Something must have been attached to the rectangular mount with a hole in front of him. One might expect hanging chains to be attached to the loop behind the spout and to the missing loop behind the figure, but often there is a third attached in the middle about there. Alternatively there may have been an object associated with the figure attached here.  Whatever the interpretation the lamp is a really important find.

by Anthony Beeson

A newly discovered Roman villa at Stoke Gifford, South Gloucestershire

In the autumn of 2016, Cotswold Archaeology excavated a site on land previously owned by Dings Crusaders Rugby Football Club, Stoke Gifford, prior to development of the site for housing by Redrow Homes South West. Archaeological fieldwork was completed in March 2018 and CgMs Heritage acted as archaeological consultants throughout the archaeological works.

The excavation revealed remarkable evidence for a Roman villa and many associated features. While many of the villa’s walls and floor surfaces had been removed once the building fell into disuse, in some areas intact walls and floors survived, allowing us to get a good understanding of the layout of the villa. Well-preserved features included the remains of hypocausts and evidence for a courtyard or garden, as well as a series of outbuildings, external to the main courtyard and house.

Plan of the main villa residence
Plan of the main villa residence (green)

The complete, modern excavation of a Romano-British villa is immensely exciting as it provides us with a rare opportunity to consider the function and socio-economic status of such sites in detail. Many Roman villas were excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the advent of modern archaeological techniques. The excavation of the main villa building, courtyard and ancillary buildings has provided us with the chance to gather exceptionally important information about the development and organisation of Romano-British villa estates. While we will only gain a proper understanding of the site through full post-excavation analysis, we are already able to say a good deal about the development of this villa over time.

3D model of the villa prior to excavation (links to further 3D models can be found at the bottom of the page)

Early Origins

The site began during the Late Iron Age or Early Roman period as a sub-oval enclosure, which contained a roundhouse and a scatter of associated pits and postholes. During the early Roman period, perhaps during the 1st to 2nd centuries AD, fields, paddocks and trackways were laid out over part of the site, replacing the earlier enclosure.

Between the 2nd and late 3rd/early 4th centuries AD the site was occupied by a timber structure with at least two rooms, along with a broadly contemporary rectangular stone-built building. This seems to have been a barn, and it produced good evidence for industrial or agricultural processing.

The Villa

The settlement was completely remodelled in the later Roman period, during the later 3rd or 4th centuries, when a substantial residence, a walled courtyard and a range of ancillary buildings were built over the remains of the earlier buildings. This later complex evidently developed over time, with at least three phases of construction identified.

Channelled hypocaust system in the south range
Channelled hypocaust system in the south range
Extension at the front of the north range
Extension at the front of the north range

The main house originated as a simple rectangular building containing three rooms, but over time projecting wings were added to the north and south, while the north wing was sub-divided into three rooms, including a kitchen. In the south wing there was a large living room, heated by a channelled hypocaust system. A further development included the addition of a range of rooms to the rear of the building, one of which contained a hypocaust system. At this stage a portico was also added to the front of the house, extending between the projecting wings. The main house had now reached its maximum extent, c. 29m long and c. 21m wide.

In the post-Roman period the floors and wall foundations were robbed out, presumably for use elsewhere, although it is unclear when this robbing occurred. There is little evidence for activity between the Roman and later post-medieval periods. A number of ditches and furrows attest to the agricultural use of the site during the post-medieval period, until it was developed as the rugby club in the 1940’s.

Finds from the site

The excavations produced a wide range of evidence, which may be of use for telling us about the function of the villa and earlier buildings (and whether this changed over time), along with insights into the social status and perhaps even some of the beliefs of the settlement’s occupants. Discoveries included an inhumation burial, probably dating to the late 2nd or 3rd century AD and a human cremation, buried within a small pottery vessel.

The site produced a rich finds assemblage, including dress accessories, a coin hoard, and, most interesting of all, an extremely rare bronze hanging lamp. This exciting object has been examined by Anthony Beeson, and is the subject of our recent website story.

Mark Brett, Senior Project Officer

More 3D models of the Roman villa features are on our Sketchfab page
An unusual lamp from the Stoke Gifford villa


Andover’s outcast dead: exploring an Anglo-Norman execution cemetery

Current archaeology awards logo wit the link to voteThe 2019 Current Archaeology Award nominations have been announced, and we are excited to share with you that our investigations on Weyhill Road, Andover, have been nominated for Rescue Project of the Year!

Projects nominated for this award are those where the archaeology was threatened by human or natural agencies. In this instance, a brownfield site was chosen as the planned location of a new Aldi store on the western edge of Andover. Supported and funded by Aldi, we began working on site in 2016 with a watching brief which later developed into an excavation due to the discovery of the remains of cemetery containing the graves of at least 124 people.

person in yellow ppe and a hardhat excavating two skeletons with a trowelAnalysis of these individuals has indicated that the majority were those of younger males, and many of the bodies and their burial rites (including decapitation, bound hands, being laid in the grave face down etc.) suggest that they died subject to punishment under a legal system.  A few examples of this sort of special ‘punishment cemetery’ have been found before from late Anglo-Saxon times with occasional hints that they may have continued after the Norman Conquest. Our radiocarbon dates have shown that this happened at Weyhill. It has previously been thought that in the medieval period most criminals would have been buried in normal cemeteries, but our dates provide by far the most comprehensive evidence yet that in some places at least punishment cemeteries continued in use well into the medieval period.  This makes the site rare and of national significance.

We need your support!

All nominations for the Current Archaeology Awards are based on articles and books featured within Current Archaeology over the last 12 months. We are grateful for the nomination and for the recognition  that this project has received. It is a great investigation to be part of, and we have enjoyed every minute so far. We hope you do too!  Voting for the awards is live (until 11th February 2019) and is open to everyone. We, and the project, would be very grateful for your vote!

To read more about the project, please visit:

Weyhill, Andover – an Anglo-Norman execution cemetery (Cotswold Archaeology website)
Andover’s outcast dead: Exploring an Anglo-Norman execution cemetery (Current Archaeology website)

Committed to engaging and connecting with local communities with their local heritage, several interested local groups have joined us to hear updates about the project. If you are interested in finding out more details, please contact