News

Keynes, trains and automobiles

We were clearly trying too hard to come up with a witty headline but the facts are clear, when it comes to the big infrastructure projects we stand side-by-side with our clients, managing their complex archaeological requirements. Whether it is in the planning or construction stages of projects, we have the skills and experience to handle the scheme specific logistical tests that invariably accompany the more traditional archaeological challenges. The last few years has seen the Milton Keynes team busy working on significant energy, airport, road and rail infrastructure projects across central and eastern England.

Drone Image of archaeological works
Excavations in advance of construction of the A120 Little Hadham Bypass and Flood Alleviation Scheme, Hertfordshire

During the late summer of 2019, while working on a highway scheme in Hertfordshire, our team topped 50 archaeologists on site. While, by most measures, this has to be acknowledged as a large archaeological project, in this instance the significance was not the scale but the unique circumstance that we had colleagues from all of our five offices working alongside each other. One company; one high standard; one large talent pool to draw from.

large-scale trial trenching project satellite image
Trial trenching during the most recent phase of work at Rugby. Credit: Google Earth

But energy and transport projects don’t have the monopoly on scale; we have been working on some seriously large-scale strategic housing schemes too. Several different five-hundred plus trial trenching projects in Northants, Leicestershire, Rugby and Essex have kept our teams occupied. At Rugby, we are nearing our 10th anniversary working together with the client team; with more site work planned for later this Spring.

These longer running, sustainable urban extension projects present a different set of challenges such continuity of personnel, retaining invested-knowledge and keeping the momentum going on post-excavation work and publications; all matters that we are well-versed with. In the next few weeks we are looking forward to returning to Bidwell West, Central Beds; another large-scale strategic housing scheme that we have been working on for several years.


A moated site near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Last autumn, the CA field team excavated a moated site near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. The moat had largely been infilled during the late 20th century, while post-medieval domestic buildings within the interior were demolished following a fire in 2005. The moat is now surrounded by a large industrial estate and business park, although it originally occupied a rural location. Despite this, it was deeply stratified, requiring three phases of mechanical stripping.

The demolished remnants of the post-medieval domestic buildings within, and contemporary bridge across, the moat
The demolished remnants of the post-medieval domestic buildings within, and contemporary bridge across, the moat

At the west of the site, the first site strip identified the later moat fills as well as the 18th and 19th-century domestic structures, all of which correlated closely with the available 19th-century cartographic evidence. Disappointingly, the moat here was relatively shallow, typically no more than 2m deep, and only 18th to 20th-century artefacts were recovered from within the four hand-excavated interventions.

The island created by the moat contained a number of later medieval/early post-medieval ditches and a stone culvert, which were clearly cut by the moat’s western arm before extending beyond the limit of the site. This suggested that the western part of the surviving moat was not medieval in origin, but possibly part of a much later formal landscaped garden, contemporaneous with the post-medieval buildings.

Outside the moat, immediately to the north, re-stripping revealed the footprint of a large medieval aisled barn. This stone building was very close to a post-medieval brick bridge across the moat’s northern arm, indicating that the building and the bridge were not contemporaneous. The stone barn was at least 35m long, 8m wide, and had eight surviving central stone post-pads within its interior. It had been roofed with Cotswold stone slates, although only the smaller pegged tiles survived.

The post-medieval western arm of the moat
The post-medieval western arm of the moat

Hand-excavation within the moat’s northern and eastern arms revealed a strikingly different sequence, and here it reached a depth of 3.5m. Organic-rich fills lay beneath the post-medieval deposits and, importantly, the earliest fills produced exclusively 12th to 14th-century pottery.

A bridge, contemporaneous with the medieval moat fills, was identified crossing the eastern arm, comprising interior and exterior stone abutments of finely dressed and coursed limestone. Two large, squared timbers (each 5m long and 0.4m square) were incorporated into the stonework, founded on the exposed natural clays at the moat’s base. Several upright timbers had been incorporated into the base timbers with mortice and tenon joints. While the interior stone abutment survived in good condition, the exterior stonework had suffered a catastrophic failure, which presumably rendered this bridge unusable.

The medieval stone abutments and exposed timber structure
The medieval stone abutments and exposed timber structure
Evidence for the failure of the exterior stone abutment pushing against the upright timber
Evidence for the failure of the exterior stone abutment pushing against the upright timber

The findings bring into question the true extent of the medieval moated site. It is now speculated that the original medieval moat enclosed a much larger area, probably extending west into an area truncated by modern flood alleviation works. This postulated part of the moat may have been truncated (or completely abandoned) when an early post-medieval mill race was constructed along the western limit of the site.  The surviving western arm is certainly much later (possibly 18th century) and runs parallel with the mill race; its most likely interpretation is as a post-medieval garden feature, albeit one that perhaps re-instated the dynamics and grandeur of a moated site.

Cliff Bateman

 


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!


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

 


Current Archaeology Awards: Voting closes on 10 February 2020!!!

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 www.archaeology.co.uk/live

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).