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TVAS News: Roman activity at Woodsford Quarry, Dorchester, Dorset

Thames Valley Archaeological Services have been working on behalf of Hills Quarry Products at the site of Woodsford Quarry, near Dorchester, Dorset, since December 2008. The work so far has been carried out in four fields in advance of the construction of the quarry operational plant, and, more recently, extraction of the gravel.

The site of Woodsford Quarry lies within a general area rich in evidence of prehistoric and Roman occupation with for example the Neolithic causewayed enclosure at Flagstones, the Iron Age hillfort of Maiden Castle and the Roman town of Durnovaria all to the west in or around modern Dorchester. Later monuments in the vicinity of the site include the 14th century fortified house of Woodsford Castle to the northeast and, to the east of the castle, the earthworks of the deserted medieval village of Woodsford Strangeways.

The vast majority of the finds and features discovered on the site date to the Roman period, in particular the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. These consist of a complex of ditches, gullies and pits which form a series of fields and enclosures all of which contained pottery of 3rd and 4th century dates. By studying the way that all of the individual ditches and gullies relate to each other and their positions in the landscape it has been possible to identify three main phases of use with the newer overlying the old, putting them out of use. Despite the presence of rubbish pits, hearths, a small iron-smelting (bowl) furnace, pottery and animal bone, no traces of houses have so far been found. It is thought that this is because construction techniques involved the use of sill beams which rested on the ground rather than foundations set into the ground. Any traces of this sort of building are easily removed by subsequent ploughing.

In addition to the Roman finds evidence of occupation dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages was recovered. The primary feature belonging to this period was a small sub-circular ring ditch which measured 4.8m across. It is thought to have once surrounded a small Bronze Age burial mound now levelled by later cultivation although no burial was found and no conclusive dating evidence was recovered.

Work continues as and when the quarry requires access to new areas of gravel.

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

Plan of Fields 2 and 3 showing the chaotic nature of the features. The vast majority of the black lines on the plan are Roman ditches and gullies. Once untangled they can be seen to form field boundaries and trackways with newer layouts overlying the old. Field 2 during topsoil stripping. The dark lines that can be seen in the exposed gravel are archaeological features.

Excavating the Bronze Age ring ditch in Field 2. One of the furnaces after excavation.

Field 4 in the process of being stripped of its topsoil. Possible archaeological features can be seen in the centre of the picture. Planning a possible trackway in Field 4. The gullies on either side of the track can be seen as slightly browner stripes in the ground.