Prehistoric and Roman activity to the north of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset

During spring and summer 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an excavation on behalf of Bloor Homes in Somerton, Somerset. The excavation took place on land to the north of Bancombe Road, focusing on two areas in two fields (Areas 1 and 2), totalling 0.74ha. The Somerton area is known to be archaeologically rich, and investigations undertaken by a range of individuals and organisations over the past 50 years have revealed a wealth of evidence for settlement and burials dating from the prehistoric and Roman periods.

Areas 1 and 2 -drone photograph
Drone photograph of Areas 1 & 2

Areas 1 & 2

Areas 1 and 2 were selected to target groups of features identified in previous archaeological investigations at the site during 2018 and 2019, which included a desk-based assessment (ASE 2018), a geophysical survey (Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019) and an archaeological evaluation (Cotswold Archaeology 2019).

In Area 1, the geophysical survey revealed evidence for a number of rectangular ditched enclosures aligned with a possible east/west orientated ditched droveway. In Area 2, a ring-ditch measuring 12m in diameter was identified, along with ditched features which may have represented land boundaries or enclosure ditches.

The subsequent evaluation confirmed the presence of an extensive Roman settlement and associated landscape features dating from the 1st–4th century AD in Area 1. Identified features included a stone building, flagstone working surfaces/floors, pits, and the suspected east/west aligned droveway. In Area 2, the evaluation confirmed the presence of the ring-ditch and an associated field ditch; these were not dated but were considered likely to be of prehistoric date.

In light of the significant archaeology revealed by the above investigations, the excavation of Areas 1 and 2 were requested by Somerset County Council’s archaeological advisor.

Ring-ditch
Ring-ditch

The excavation of Area 2 confirmed the results of the previous investigations at this part of the site. The ring-ditch (see photo above) was identified as a probable drainage gully for a roundhouse measuring around 12m in diameter, while the nearby ditch was possibly associated. Neither feature has yet been dated, although both are believed likely to be of Middle to Late Iron Age in date (c. 400 BC–AD 43); the ring-ditch is very similar  to eight other roundhouse ring-ditches excavated at the local authority school development site 100m to the north (Wessex Archaeology 2020), which have all tentatively been dated to the Middle to Late Iron Age.

The excavation in Area 1 revealed the presence of a pre-Roman phase of activity, probably during the Late Iron Age. Features associated with this phase included a small number of postholes, a hearth, a group of rectangular enclosures and an oval enclosure. This may be part of a wider pattern witnessed in many parts of Britain, where Late Iron Age settlement and landscape features often continued into the early Roman period (up to around AD 100), sometimes then developing extensively.

Roman stockade enclosures
Roman stockade enclosures

During the Roman period Area 1 became the focus for several rectangular ditched enclosures (see photo above), separated by a wide, east/west aligned, ditched droveway. The droveway lay immediately to the south of a group of stone buildings located in the north-east of the area, suggesting a direct association with them.

Stone blacksmiths workshop and lambing shed buildings

Stone blacksmiths workshop and 3 phases of the later lambing shed buildings

The building complex included multiple stone-built buildings and flagstone floor surfaces, and metalworking waste recovered from the buildings suggests that the complex may have functioned as a blacksmith’s workshop. Several finds appear to confirm this, including an iron blacksmith’s hammer (see photo below), an iron cleaver, an iron punch or engraving tool, lumps of iron slag, iron hammerscale and vitrified fired clay (possible furnace lining).

Roman iron blacksmith's hammer from workshop
Roman iron blacksmith’s hammer from the workshop

A wealth of other finds recovered from the buildings include large quantities of pottery, animal bone, copper-alloy objects including tweezers (see photo below left), brooches, coins, stone mortar fragments (see photo below right), stone gaming pieces, Kimmeridge shale bracelet fragments, a bone pin, and a large number of iron nails and hobnails.

Features associated with the workshop included smithing furnaces and stokeholes (where the furnace fires were tended), and at least three phases of use were identified. The structure may ultimately have changed function and been used as a lambing shed , a suggestion supported by the construction of small, separate, internal bays within the building, demarcated by tabular rock slabs laid on edge in narrow construction gullies. A stone cobbled yard surface to the immediate east of the building was probably related in some way, and a stone-lined cist or basin (see photo below) perhaps held water, possibly having been associated with the smithing activity or for watering livestock.

Excavation of stone-lined cist or basin
Excavation of stone-lined cist or basin

Several human and animal burials were recorded within the buildings in their latest phase, before this part of the site fell into disuse, other than for the dumping of settlement waste and the robbing of suitable building stone from the now ruined buildings. The human burials included two neonate (baby) burials and eight possible lamb burials, just on the inside edge of the walls. These may represent ‘closure’ deposits associated with the disuse of the Roman structures, a widely recorded ritual practice known from Roman Britain, thought to mark the final ‘closing off’ or abandonment of a specific structure.

While the full extent of the site is uncertain, it evidently continued to the north, as traces of the settlement complex have been found in recent investigations by Wessex Archaeology (2019; 2020), extending across the local authority school development site. The excavations undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology have shed light on some fascinating aspects of life (and death) in what was evidently an extensive Roman rural settlement occupied between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.

Chris Ellis

References

Archaeological Surveys Limited 2019 Land North of Bancombe Road, Somerton: Magnetometer Survey Report

ASE (Archaeology South East) 2018 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment (Heritage Statement).Report Ref: 2018198

Cotswold Archaeology 2019 Land to the North of Bancombe Road, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Evaluation. Report Ref: EX0075_01

Wessex Archaeology 2019 Somerton Primary School, Northfield, Somerton, Somerset: Archaeological Evaluation. Ref: 205157.05

Wessex Archaeology 2020 Somerton Primary School, Northfield, Somerton, Somerset. Archaeological Excavation: Interim Statement of Results. Ref: 205158.03

Share this!