11th Day of Christmas: Court Knoll excavations update

In 2016 Suffolk Archaeology (now the Suffolk Office of Cotswold Archaeology) worked with Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society (NWWCS) to help them carry out some trial excavations on the Scheduled Site at Court Knoll, a D-shaped medieval earthwork enclosing an area of just under 2ha on the floodplain of the River Stour, in South Suffolk. Domesday records that the land was held by Swein of Essex in 1086, and significantly that they were in the hands of his father Robert FitzWimarc (of Norman/Breton descent) before 1066; therefore the family were one of the few major landholders not to have been dispossessed following the Conquest.

Cours Knoll Excavations
A volunteer records Trench 1. Note the later curved wall on the left side, and the Roman tiles in the walls of the earlier building. The possible altar base can be seen as the rectangular structure with the tape on it

The excavation followed a series of geophysical surveys of the interior of the Court Knoll enclosure, undertaken by Tim Dennis with members of NWWCS, which had revealed a range of buildings contained under a low knoll within the eastern end of the enclosure. These included a building with features indicative of a continental-style cruciform church, assumed to be of pre-Conquest date and possibly lying within its own moated enclosure. Permission to investigate the site was granted by Historic England, and Suffolk Archaeology with a team of local volunteers excavated seven trenches across it. This uncovered two phases of building, the later of which had a curved wall as was probably a tower. The earlier structure consisted of thick, rubble-built walls faced with re-used Roman building material, and looked to represent the squared eastern (chancel) end of the church, with an inside measurement of c.4m.

Only a little of the interior of the building was excavated but part of a chalk floor for the church was exposed, as was a small masonry base interpreted as the site of an altar. Deposits of charcoal and burnt pink hues on the stone and mortar suggested that the earlier building had been destroyed by fire, and amongst the demolition debris were found fragments of burnt and fragile window glass as well as eleven fragments of rare polychrome relief tiles (see below), which can be dated stylistically to the Late Anglo-Saxon period.  Similar tiles have been found at important ecclesiastical sites such as the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds. An east/west human inhumation burial to the north of the church has been radiocarbon dated to 942-1023 cal AD, lending support to the interpretation of this as the site of a Late Anglo-Saxon church and hall complex.

Two fragments of the late Saxon relief tiles
Two fragments of the late Saxon relief tiles

Since excavations finished we have been working with NWWCS to help them complete the post-excavation analysis of this important site. Grants have been obtained from numerous local and national bodies which have enabled research into the structural evidence for the earlier building. So far this has identified the window glass (researched by Sarah Paynter and Rachel Tyson) as a forest type, made from plant ashes, but with an unusual composition of high potash and low silica content. Broadly similar examples (but not exact parallels) date to the 12th/13th centuries, although potash glass was being used by the 11th century in England for glazed windows in high-status ecclesiastical buildings, such as in the windows of Edward the Confessor’s Westminster Cathedral.

Analysis by Dana Challinor has shown that the charcoal came from a solid oak structure with intricate carving, a roof or rood screen perhaps, and that it was in good condition when destroyed by fire. A radiocarbon date from the charcoal, representing the interface between the sapwood and the heartwood, has provided a date of 772-900 cal AD, which is an unexpectedly early date. Oak charcoal poses a problem for radiocarbon dating because of its longevity, and in this case the wood sampled could be as much as 60 years older than the point at which the tree was cut down. Nevertheless, even adding these years gives us a date comparable to that of the burial, and well before the Norman Conquest.

Scientific analysis of the Late Saxon tiles continues and we plan to get more dates from the charcoal to check the one we have, but with each piece of research this fascinating site reveals a little bit more of itself, and the conclusion that this may be a very important lost ecclesiastical site becomes more and more irresistible.

Joanna Caruth (Project Manager)

In case you missed it:

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10th Day of Christmas

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Weyhill Medieval Punishment Cemetery – Monograph Release

Following four years of hard work across all our teams, CA has just published a monograph on the medieval punishment cemetery discovered in Hampshire.

Weyhill cemetery monograph coverIn 2016, a watching brief in advance of construction at a site between Andover and Weyhill revealed disturbed human remains. This formerly isolated roadside location, which had been partly developed in the later 20th century, lies close to the historical boundary between Andover and Abbotts Ann Hundred. The discovery led to the excavation of a densely crowded group of partly disturbed and heavily intercut graves, and it soon became clear that this was not a normal community cemetery. The remains of some 124 individuals, mostly male and adult, were revealed, with much additional disarticulated bone. Many had clearly been buried with their hands tied behind their backs or had been interred face-down, and some had been decapitated.

As might be expected with a rural ‘execution’ (or punishment) cemetery of this type, very few artefacts were recovered. In this case only one find, a silver penny dateable to AD 979-985, allowed close dating, which suggested that the site was a distinctive type of Saxon cemetery known elsewhere in Hampshire. However, radiocarbon dates from articulated burials, selected for their spatial and stratigraphic positions, demonstrate that the cemetery was in use from at least the 10th century (and possibly as early as the 8th century), and continued in use beyond the Norman Conquest to at least the 13th and possibly the 14th century. Stable isotope analysis shows that the people buried here were mostly of local origin.

The significance of the site lies in this evidence for continuity, at a local level, of the organisation of judicial power from Saxon times well into the Middle Ages. It is the first site to provide clear evidence for such duration of a ‘punishment’ cemetery.

The book can be purchased from Oxbow for £19.95

 

Contents:

  1. Introduction and Background
  2. Excavation Results
  3. Human Bone
  4. Artefacts and Faunal Remains
  5. Radiocarbon Dating and chronological modelling
  6. Isotope Analysis
  7. The Medieval background and Legal System
  8. Discussion

Appendix 1 – Analysis of Local Early Medieval Sources

Appendix 2 – After the Cemetery

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Boxford 2019 – project summary

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 in 2015 the investigations uncovered a large villa and bath house, with a farmstead following in the second year. In 2017 the project moved to another smaller villa site at Mud Hole, which led to the exciting and unexpected discovery of a mosaic floor with what appeared to be unique iconography in Britain.

Due to time and financial constraints, the mosaic could not be fully exposed in 2017.  However, the level of interest was very high and the BHP started fund raising to allow for another season of investigation. Taking advantage of a window in the agricultural cycle, this extra season’s work took place in the late summer of 2019.

The 2019 investigations

We decided to open two trenches in 2019. The first was aimed at revealing the full mosaic and the area immediately adjacent to it. The second was focussed on the centre of the villa, where we would check for evidence of further mosaic floors, but also hope to get evidence of the dating and character of the villa building. It is true to say that the results did not disappoint.

Trench 1

The mosaic turned out to be even more exciting and spectacular than we had hoped. It became clear very quickly that the unique iconography exposed in 2017 continued across the floor, and interpretation has revealed a more detailed cast of characters from Greek Mythology than anyone expected. Adding to the Bellerophon and the Chimera story, 2019 revealed that a large part of the floor contained the story of the Triumph of Pelops.

Boxford Mosaic trench 1

 

This story involves Pelops seeking the hand in marriage of Hippodamia, the beautiful daughter of King Oenomaus. The king challenged all suitors to a chariot race and, when they inevitably lost, the losers were beheaded and their heads displayed in court. Pelops, aware of this, sabotaged the king’s chariot with the help of the royal charioteer, Myrtilus, on the promise of a night with the princess and half the kingdom. Having won the race, Pelops reneged on his promise and killed Myrtilus, but not before Myrtilus could issue a curse on Pelops and his descendants.

The mosaic also contains an inscription, which, although damaged, has been interpreted as reading – ‘Long life to you, Caepio, with your wife Fortunata’. This suggests that we have the name of the villa owner and his wife, a unique feature on British mosaics.

It was clear that the mosaic had been damaged by fire in ancient history, but it was also evident that the floor was kept clean and clear of domestic rubbish. On the outside of the structure there was evidence of rubbish being dumped against the walls of the building.

Trench 2

Trench 2 produced no evidence to suggest that a mosaic was present in the central room of the villa, although there was some evidence that the room was floored with plain clay tiles, which had subsequently been lifted and removed. Plain rammed chalk floors appear to relate to very late activity. It would also appear that a new opening had been punched through the rear wall of the structure and, as with Trench 1, there was extensive evidence for the dumping of rubbish immediately outside the building.

In the corridor to the front of the room there was evidence of a post pad, suggestive of an attempt to keep the roof up. This might indicate that towards the end of the life of the structure repairs were low-key and short-term.

Boxford Mosaic trench 2

Finding out more

The public interest in the site has been substantial and of a scale that has allowed a book detailing the project to be produced at very short notice. ‘The Boxford Mosaic: A Unique Survivor from the Roman Age’ can be purchased in local bookshops in Newbury or via Countryside Books.

A more detailed report on the archaeological findings, following analysis and interpretation of the material recovered, will be produced later this year.

The BHP have published some excellent photographs of the works underway on their website.

To find out more about each season of excavation check out our Boxford Community dig page.

Boxford 2019 team

 

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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).

 

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Meet the archaeologists – students visit our Cirencester office

On Wednesday 27th November, a group of A-level Ancient History students from New College Swindon visited our Cirencester office to get a taster of what a career in archaeology is like.

New College Students visiting our Cirencester office

Anton pouring tea into a cupHazel and Andy from our publications team provided the students with insights into the different work undertaken by the various departments at Cotswold Archaeology; they even managed to demonstrate a typical day in the life of a field archaeologist from the comforts of our office, with some lovely photos of our archaeologists hard at work excavating and recording, as well as drinking tea (a very important part of the day as we’re sure you’ll agree!!).

The students also learnt about how we process finds once they are returned from site, and were shown how to analyse a skeleton in order to determine its age, gender and signs of disease. As well as observing our post-excavation archaeologists washing finds from our current excavations, the students were treated to a showcase of some of the most interesting and exciting finds from recent years.

The items on display included coins and jewellery from the Dings Crusaders Roman Villa, quirky ‘face pots’ from medieval tenements at Redcliffe Quarter, Bristol, some beautifully reconstructed 3rd century Severn Valley ware jars from Bredon, Worcestershire and a First World War medal found during work at Zouch Manor in Wiltshire.

Andy demonstrate the finds

The students were also lucky enough to get a first glimpse of some amazing finds from ongoing excavations that we’ve not shown to anyone else yet …but don’t worry, we’ll be sharing them with you as soon as we can!

Frank, the course leader, said:

“Thank you to Cotswold Archaeology for generously giving up their time to talk to New College students. The students were inspired by the practical elements of the session and really enjoyed being able to handle such rare and important artefacts. The session was invaluable in helping the students broaden their understanding of the variety of careers available, and they left the session well-informed about possible career paths. Cotswold Archaeology did a fantastic job of inspiring the potential of our students and many will now be hoping to progress into Archaeological degrees and careers!”

Jess Cook

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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!

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