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TVAS News: Iron Age Settlement and Burials at Highbury Avenue, Salisbury

In the summer of 2013 TVAS archaeologists undertook an open area excavation on the site of the former Highbury and Fisherton Manor Schools in Salisbury, Wiltshire. The goal was to record any buried archaeological features and expand on the observations made during previous evaluation trenching in advance of the construction of new housing units by Taylor Wimpey Southern Counties.

Despite the large amount of damage that the school foundations had done, the excavations uncovered a series of Iron Age and Roman ditches which together formed an enclosure complex. The majority of the excavated ditches were less than 0.5m deep but one in the western part of the site was found to go down to a depth of 3.6m. A series of 11 human burials were found in the central and eastern parts of the site amongst the enclosure ditches. The four best preserved skeletons were successfully radiocarbon dated to the Iron Age between 376-152 BC. Finds from the site included a variety of pottery ranging in date from the Middle Bronze Age through to the Roman period although the majority were Late Iron Age and Late Roman wares. Also recovered were several metal finds which consisted mostly of iron nails and hobnails although an iron ring was found in Grave 37 and an iron strap end in Grave 10. A small knife blade with loop attached to the handle and two fragments of twisted copper alloy bracelets were found in the fills of the enclosure ditches.

In addition to the main excavations on the Schools site it was identified that a substantial deposit of brickearth remained to the south of the area. Palaeolithic remains had been recorded previously during brickearth extraction and it was decided that the work provided an opportunity to assess the potential of the surviving deposits to contain Pleistocene palaeoenvironmental evidence and Palaeolithic material. A test pit was dug to enable the examination of a 4.4m deep sequence of brickearth deposits which overlay the gravel of River Terrace 4. No archaeological remains were recovered but analysis of the layers within the sequence showed evidence of biological activity and laid down in still or slow-flowing water but were also episodically exposed as land. This suggests that they were floodplain deposits, perhaps from a marshland environment, probably meaning that the area is unlikely to have been chosen for human habitation. Two samples were taken from sand lenses within the brickearth for dating using Optically Stimulated Luminescence. This returned dates of 47±8 ka BP (thousand years before present - AD 1950) and 56±9 ka BP placing the deposition of the material in an interstadial element of the Devensian period and the Middle Palaeolithic.

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

Excavating one of the larger enclosure ditches. Cross section through one of the Iron Age enclosure ditches.

Excavated Burial 74 lying as it was placed in the top of a circular pit. The fully 4.4m-deep geoarchaeological test pit. Different coloured layers can be seen in the brickearth

The two fragments of two twisted copper alloy bracelets. The iron knife blade with the loop incorporated into the handle.