Mick Aston Annual Lecture 2021 is on YouTube

For more than a year now we’ve kept largely to our homes due to Covid and haven’t been able to attend events in person that would normally happen throughout the year.  To combat this, Cotswold Archaeology has recently delivered our first online lecture, welcoming over 300 people from the UK and further afield, including the USA, Canada and the Netherlands, reaching a wide audience and enabling people to attend from the comfort of their own homes.

Hosted by Tim Darvill, Cotswold Archaeology’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, our Mick Aston Annual Lecture focused on Roman Gloucester’s Eastern Cemetery, including thought-provoking contributions by Andrew Armstrong, Gloucester City Council’s archaeologist, and our very own Mary Alexander, Sharon Clough and Philippa Walton. Focusing on the site, its finds and skeletal evidence, the lecture gives a fascinating insight into the richness of Gloucester’s Roman past.

Lecture attendees left feedback full of praise for the event – ‘this was an interesting variation from the traditional lecture format – the organizers and speakers are to be congratulated on this successful innovation. The online delivery also allowed a national and international audience to participate,’ with the webinar containing ‘a variety of speakers with the right level of content for an audience of interested people who have some knowledge or experience of archaeology.’

For those of you who weren’t able to join us during the live event, we’ve recently uploaded this year’s lecture for you to watch at your leisure – so grab a drink, sit back and relax while we tell you about this incredible Roman cemetery site in the heart of Gloucester.

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Timeline — the story of South Wales’ longest dig

The pipeline snaking across the landscapeexcavation at Conkland Hill
The pipeline snaking across the landscape excavation at Conkland Hill

Timeline, a new book by Cotswold Archaeology, brings to a conclusion one of the longest (in terms of distance) digs ever to take place in Wales, if not the UK. The project known as the South Wales Gas Pipeline took place during the construction of a 317km gas pipeline that runs from Milford Haven via Felindre, skirting the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, through Herefordshire and on to Tirley in Gloucestershire. The post-excavation project, funded by National Grid, was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology in collaboration with other archaeological organisations. The development itself was also a collaborative effort involving Network Archaeology, Cambrian Archaeological Projects, the various archaeological trusts, Groundwork Archaeology and the Rhead Group. In planning the route prior to construction great care was taken to avoid known sites of ecological and archaeological potential and importance.

Timeline cover
Timeline

Timeline is a synthesis of the results and covers over 10,000 years of human history, from at least the Mesolithic period to the beginnings of industrialisation. Pipelines by their very nature provide a thin slice across the contemporary landscape and present opportunities to explore past landscapes in areas not usually affected by commercial development. They often provide new and complementary information to existing knowledge that challenges our preconceptions of the past – where people lived and the routine of daily life. Ken Murphy (Dyfed Archaeological Trust) writes about Iron Age settlement in upland areas, Andrew David (formerly Historic England) and Prof Tim Darvill (Bournemouth University) report on Mesolithic and Neolithic activity (the latter including the discovery of a new henge monument), and Heather James (now retired) focusses on Early Medieval farming and diet. Seren Griffiths provides a radiocarbon chronology based on Bayesian analysis for many of the key sites, and James Rackham has written a synthesis of the past environment. Jonathan Hart sets the scene and provides discussion. The project produced large datasets and the book is a gateway to a significant online resource that can be explored at CA Archaeological Reports website (keyword search: South Wales Gas Pipeline).

Key discoveries include a new Late Neolithic henge monument at Vaynor farm – the subject of Mark Gridley’s visualization that depicts its reuse for ritual ceremony some 2500 years after its first construction.  A copper halberd blade with traces of its wooden haft was found during the excavation of a ring ditch at Trecastle (Powys) – a scary weapon (as depicted in the prehistoric rock art of Europe) that could have been used in ceremonial dance, ritual combat or simply for the poleaxing of cattle (see below).

Halberd and prehistoric art of Europe
Rock art figures and the halberd
site visit
Site visit

Other discoveries include a great many burnt mounds – enigmatic features of mostly Bronze Age date that may have been used to provide heated water for cleansing ceremonies. These features are a topic of much ‘heated’ debate for which the project has added some key sites and much new information, including an important set of radiocarbon dates.  Some of these features had troughs, including the preserved wooden example from Upper Neeston, Pembrokeshire. This find attracted much public interest and its lifting was witnessed by the then First Minster for Wales (the late Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan).

Not surprisingly, the route of the pipeline took in many rural areas that provided evidence for past lives and activities. The various features included crop processing ovens as well as evidence for woodland management activity including charcoal production. Charcoal was an important resource in the past and essential for small-scale iron production, as evidenced at Canaston Wood and depicted in Mark Gridley’s reconstruction.

Mark Gridley’s reconstruction
Mark Gridley’s reconstruction of the charcoal production

The publication of the book brings the project to a close and serves to promote the wealth of knowledge created during this remarkable episode in the exploration of the archaeology of Wales. Much of the information gathered during the project is available to access freely online. Copies of the book are available to buy at Oxbow.

Alistair Barclay

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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)

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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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