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TVAS Update - Summer 2002

Life and Death in 1st century Kent

Open area excavation at Sittingbourne, Kent, uncovered an extensive Iron Age and Roman field system including two phases of droveway (a trackway used for moving livestock) with field boundary ditches running off either side. The basic Iron Age system was remodelled in the 1st century AD (around the time of the Roman conquest) with major modifications on one side of the droveway, but retaining the original layout on the other. Roman features include a corn-drying oven and what may have been a clay quarry pit. Roman ditches subdivide the existing land plots without changing the overall plan. This essential continuity shows how little impact the Roman conquest must have had on everyday life for ordinary farmers in the area, at least for the first few generations.

A small group of cremation burials along one of the boundaries also dates to the 1st century. The edges of fields were in practical terms 'marginal' land that could be used for non-productive purposes, but may also have been regarded as symbolic of the boundaries of life, and ideally suited for specifically religious and funerary uses in both the Iron Age and Roman periods.

for Bloor Homes

Aylesbury-Chalgrove pipeline

At first glance, mile after mile of pipe-trench might not seem the most promising place to conduct research. But the fact that a pipeline describes a random line (in an archaeological sense) across the landscape means that it provides an opportunity to examine areas that archaeologists might otherwise ignore. By directing attention to new areas, pipe-line projects have significantly increased our estimates of the density of known archaeological sites, and are beginning to disprove some assumptions about where prehistoric occupation can be expected. Monitoring the laying of a gas pipe from Aylesbury (Oxon) to Chalgrove (Bucks) revealed several unsuspected sites, including prehistoric, Roman and Saxon settlements. Here, traces of a circular Iron Age building appear for the first time.

for Transco

Catherine Wheel Hotel

Building survey can reveal fascinating detail hidden in the fabric of historic buildings. The Catherine Wheel Hotel in Henley-on-Thames (Oxon) has an impressive Georgian façade, but is known to be considerably earlier. The property is recorded in documents from as early as 1499. A detailed survey revealed that parts of the original structure were constructed at right angles to the present frontage, and set well back from the street. What might appear today to be wings added to the rear of the main building have been revealed as among the earliest parts of the frame. Later additions include store-rooms, possibly for a now lost malthouse, and stables, with visitor accommodation above, added in the 18th century to cater to the rising trade from coach travel.

for JD Wetherspoon plc

National Archaeology Day

Following the success of last year’s National Archaeology Day, TVAS has continued with projects aimed at the promotion of archaeology within the community. For a second successive year, TVAS teamed up with the Museum of Reading and the Ure Museum of Greek Pottery at Reading University to develop activities encompassing the archaeological discipline. Through the use of real objects and enjoyment, National Archaeology Day is continuing to prove that people are still interested in getting dirty.

Not all archaeology deals with the distant past. In May, with the help of Bewley Homes, an open day was held at excavations at Gas Works Road in Reading. This site housed part of the Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory, an extremely important part of Reading's more recent history. This Open Day represented an opportunity for the local community to explore the foundations of the factory, which naturally evoked vivid memories for many.

The Open Day also assisted the excavators, as additional information from the public allowed us to develop a fuller picture of the site. Attracting over 100 people, and interest from the local press and media, the open day delighted all who attended.

From medieval village to industrial metropolis

Complex urban stratigraphy at High Road, Whetstone (Barnet) preserved details of the history of this area from the 13th century to the present. Whetstone seems to have leapt straight from a humble village, little more than a wayside stop on the Great North Road, into part of London's urban sprawl, with no intermediate stages of development. This kind of site requires painstaking recording, but the value of this is seen when details of the medieval layout can be disentangled below 17th and 18th century buildings.

for Boots Properties plc

Early Hunters in Hampshire

In a gravel quarry at Somerley, Hampshire, evaluation revealed a dense scatter of over 400 struck flints, from the Upper Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) period. The finds included distinctive 'long blades', backed blades and other tools. Sites of this period are particularly rare in Britain.

In a second phase of work, 949 tiny test pits were dug at 1m intervals to test the extent of the flint scatter, which was confirmed to be no more than 100 sq m, allowing the follow-up detailed excavation to be precisely targetted. These final excavations, just before Christmas, recovered a further 500 flint artefacts.

By meticulously recording the precise position of all artefacts, the archaeologists learnt far more about the nature of the site and its age. The site was occupied long enough for local flint to be knapped into blades and used in tasks such as hide-skinning. From the range of tools found, it is clear that their prehistoric owners had hunted animals and processed their carcasses here.

Microwear analysis of the tools (which can show what caused the wear marks) may yield further clues about what was going on at the site.

Scientific dating using Optically Stimulated Luminescence and the related technique of Thermoluminescence will provide a precise age for the site. It may turn out to be the same age as a site not far down-river, at Hengistbury Head, near the mouth of the Avon, which dated to 12,500 years ago. If so, this site may be the result of a short trip upstream to replenish flint supplies and hunt fresh game.

for Tarmac Southern Ltd

Bronze Age barrow cemetery

Aerial photographs showed a group of circular cropmarks in a quarry site at Ibsley in Hampshire. On excavation, these turned out to be substantial ring ditches, all that remained of a Bronze Age barrow cemetery. The original barrow mounds had long since been ploughed away, leaving only the ditches behind. In the centre of one of the rings a cremation burial had been placed in an urn, inside another urn, set upside down into the ground. A number of large, empty pits appear to represent holes from tree- clearance, suggesting that the site of the cemetery had to be cleared of forest before the burial monuments were built. Small groups of round barrows, each covering a single grave, were common features of the Bronze Age landscape. This contrasts with the practice of the preceding Neolithic period of multiple burials under a single isolated long barrow.

Archaeologists see this as an important step in social development, marking a move away from rituals celebrating 'the ancestors' as a homogenous group, towards a more personal commemoration of the deceased individual.

for Tarmac Southern Ltd

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

Pottery accompanying a cremation grave at Sittingbourne, Kent. Traces of a circular Iron Age building appear during excavations along the Aylesbury-Chalgrove pipeline.

The carriage entrance at the Catherine Wheel Hotel, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. Detail of the 16th-century timber roof frame at the Catherine Wheel Hotel.

National Archaeology Day open day at excavations at Gas Works Road in Reading. Remains of the medieval village being unearthed at Hight Road, Whetstone, LB of Barnet.

A worked flint tool from Somerley Quarry, Hampshire. A worked flint tool from Somerley Quarry, Hampshire.

A worked flint tool from Somerley Quarry, Hampshire. How the barrow ditches at Ibsley Quarry appeared on the surface before excavation.

The double ring barrow during excavation.