The Iron Age and Roman Settlements at Swan School and Meadowbrook College

In the spring of 2019, Cotswold Archaeology undertook archaeological excavations in advance of construction of the new Swan School and Meadowbrook College, Marston, Oxfordshire. A complex of archaeological features was revealed, providing evidence for past agricultural, settlement and industrial use of the site.

Swan School excavation in progress
Swan School excavation in progress

Using scientific dating techniques, and through studying the objects recovered from the excavations, we are able to say that the main focus of this activity began during the Iron Age (700 BC – AD 43) and continued well into the Roman period (AD 43 – 410).

Activity at the site seems to have begun during the Early Iron Age (700 – 400 BC), with a few dispersed pits and ditches. In the Middle and Late Iron Age (400 BC – AD 43) this activity increased and a possible settlement was established. Features representing the outlines of two possible roundhouses, a trackway and a number of ditches and pits, all of which may have been used for agriculture or settlement, were found across the site.

A coin of the Roman Emperor Constantine I was found in the remains of the pottery kiln.
A coin of the Roman Emperor Constantine I (306 – 337) was found in the remains of the pottery kiln.

Evidence for the development of the settlement was stronger in the Late Iron Age and Early Roman period. A series of several large, straight-sided ditches marked out an area of several enclosures. These enclosures may have been used to hold livestock, or they may have defined different functional areas within the settlement. Two trackways and more ditches and pits were also dated to this period.

This cow skeleton was found in a pit cut into the corner of one of the enclosure ditches
Pottery from Swan School excavations
Pottery from Swan School excavations

Yet more enclosures were established in the later Roman period, within one of which were the remains of a pottery kiln. Judging from the pottery found it is likely that they were making a particular type of red/orange-coloured bowls, and vessels called mortaria. These vessels have a coarse gritted surface on the interior and were probably used for the preparation of food in the same way that we use a pestle and mortar today. It is likely that the kiln was producing pottery from the middle of the 3rd century AD onwards.

It is uncertain when the settlement fell out of use and was abandoned, but it was certainly well before a series of furrows from medieval ridge-and-furrow agriculture developed across the site.

Sarah Cobain
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