Aldbourne Heritage Centre
Exploring the Village Story

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Digging A Roman Villa

About Me

So, first a bit about me

  • Moved here not knowing of links to village
  • My grandfather passed through Chiseldon late 1915-1916
  • Great*3 grandfather Richard Westall of Ramsbury
  • Great*6 grandfather Mark Westall (b 1703) of Aldbourne
  • Links to Westalls, Lewingtons, Palmers and more!

About Mow Cop

So we all love to see some old photos of the village – Mow Cop is the one facing us. If only the parking was so easy now! Note the dormer window set into the roof

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And now that window is gone, my guess is that this card predates WW1

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This is a bad scan of a photo that was on the wall when we moved in – you can see the thatch, we were told it was replaced in the early 20th C. It shows the same double line detail above the edge that I have seen in a number of village photographs – was this a local thatch style?

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Credits

Hazel Williams (dig director @ SOAG):

Hazel, directs the digs for SOAG, and has given me invaluable help getting this talk together, including many of the slides.

SOAG are South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group

 

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Digging Open To All

  • Only requirement to be a member (insurance)
  • Every Sunday Spring-October
  • No Experience Required
  • It’s a “proper” dig
  • –Proper recording of finds
  • –Will be published
  • –But not as fast as Time Team
  • Winter months marking the finds (using fine ink ppens and india ink)

First I should say that our villa isn’t as posh as the one found under a garden in WIltshire!

Where We Dug – Gatehampton

Just outside Goring by the Thames, a lovely spot

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Zooming in

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When I first arrived, the owner had given up trying to run a fuchsia nursery, and had moved on to Hamster rearing – needless to say he was an interesting character! But we were very lucky to have such an understanding landowner.

The polytunnels of dead fuchsias came in handy on the few occasions that it rained, but I’d have to say it seemed to be good weather most of the time. They also came in handy for storing all the gear.

It’s not owned by some sort of green community group, but the dig continues

 

The Site

  • First dug in 1993
  • 2016 probably it’s last season
  • First located in 1980s during pipeline survey
  • Multi period – Bronze Age onwards, you’ll see it’s a multi period site as well – Bronze age, and one of the newer finds was an Elizabethan silver penny in the topsoil

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The geology of the site is very much like ours, chalky soil, but they have more flint, and don’t have sarsen. So much flint that our digging trowels wore down quite quickly. You can see a heap of flints in the background – that heap kept on growing! So much so they were happy for me to take a load away to create a path at home with – I even had a bit of Roman tile in the path.

And look its sunny again! Downside was that in high summer we sometimes had to water the trench before we’d be able to trowel it!

 

Geophysical Survey

Circular ploughed out Bronze Age barrows

Ditches & tracks on NNE-SSW alignment that may be part of the Roman farmstead

Villa enclosure ditch

Mid Iron Age/Roman ditch line to NE of enclosure

Gradiometer survey using 20m grid squares

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Black is low resistance e.g. ditches

Bronze age barrows at the top, don’t show when looking at site – how many more have been ploughed out around the country?

Various lines, some of which are ditches, enough to say something interesting going on

 

 

First the ditch was tackled, hobnails were found in enclosure ditch (2.5m wide)

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The Digging Process

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This is typical of how we’d start,

  • Mattock off the turf
  • In this case we’d done about 1m x 3m are were adding another 3m­2
  • The down through the topsoil – This wasn’t hugely interesting to go though, and we’d got faster as any finds would be without any stratigraphy, meaning they wouldn’t tell you so much- topsoil is effectively undated due to plough mixing everything up.
  • But we’d still turn up interesting finds like Eliz. Penny, so have to go through with some care

You fill buckets quite quickly – we’d then take it in turns for the stronger people to empty the buckets into a barrow, that then gets dumped into an older trench, or when that’s full start creating a mound – you can see that in the background – it would get way bigger than that – up to about 4 feet tall and quite wide

Pottery and bone finds would go into the white trays, and be bagged up at the end of the day. Metal finds get their location recorded and bagged up immediately with a unique number.

 

Getting Bigger

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So this is what you get to after some time – a large area cleared, with walls showing.

But first you would have seen just a sea of flints from the collapsed walls – not always easy to tell the top of a wall from rubble – remove anything that’s loose – a practice that worked on this site as the walls were still very solid

Could kneel or squat – we had kneeling pads, but if you squatted you were less likely to damage other bits with your toes – but squatting is harder on your knees!

In the background you can see some of the walls with their winter covers still on – if an area wasn’t being worked on we’d leave it covered to protect it.

 

And Deeper

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Sometimes you wouldn’t come down onto a floor, but instead a deep feature.

This one is the deepest on site, that’s me in the blue helmet, over a metre down we got careful!

Here we’re deep enough to come into the ruined hypercaust system.

Veg trays to hold the hypercaust flue parts & painted plaster fragment – many many

Not all the plaster was off the walls…

Painted wall plaster in situ in Room 6

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You might be able to see it still on the base of the wall up the middle of the photo

It comes out of the ground even brighter than this

Sometime someone could do a very large difficult jigsaw with all the plaster pieces

It would probably have looked a rather garish decorating scheme to our eyes

The red and white ranging poles are helpful to show the scale in photographs

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So we found lots of plaster and ceramic building material,

By ceramic building material I mean floor tiles, roof tiles, and lots of parts of the hollow flue tiles from the hypercaust

But what else…

 

Other Finds

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Found less than 1.3m apart in south west corner of room 6 where a section of wall was identified as a doorway

It is likely that there are fragments of mineralised wood attached

May be too small to support door – cupboard?

 

 

All the metal got classed as small finds – archeological term meaning the more important stuff – not necessarily all that small.

Small finds get individually logged location using survey equipment – ours was second hand & very old so you had used to reading scales upside down – and that only gave you the vertical – had to measure the horizontals by hand – more modern kits just gives you the 3D coordinates on a readout screen.

 

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Over 100 nails or fragments

were collected and recorded

 

 

 

 

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Wood preserved by iron corrosion products and showing distinct grain

 

 

 

 

 

Bone leaf & weaving tablet

These are some of the rarer finds, Not sure how you use a weaving tablet, but it’s a nice find! Sadly I wasn’t there when these were found

 

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coins

Coins – everyone loved finding them.

Rare enough that they’re special, you’d usually find about 2 or 3 a year.

Sometimes they come out like the only on the left in really good condition,

sometimes rougher like the one on the right,

all the way through to what just looks like a corroded disk of metal.

Majority of coins on this site confirmed it’s later date. And most if not all were bronze coins – the small change of the day

Finding a coin on your birthday, which I did one year, feels really special

 

Fragments of glass vessel with ‘squiggle’ decoration

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Bone pins & cut bone ‘blank’

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More glimpses into the daily life.

The tesserae are the more interesting sort – we had loads of the plain red inch cube type made from chopped up tile. You can usually tell which way they were bedded in – the tops get worn smooth. Many are loose due to plough damage

if we ever dig a roman site within the village bounds we might do better due to no ploughing in the village

Knife blade with socket

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Oh so many small bones

  • 2 litre container filled!
  • one of those times when wearing your reading glasses helped.
  • Scale is 1cm
  • Sent for analysis

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2 litres is a lot of bones! They sifted through them all, the long straight ones are harder to identify, but jaws, pelvises, skulls and the like are more identifiable, and this is their breakdown of the species identified.

There is a bit if variation from what might be found these days but their best guess for the explanation is…

 

 

 

 

 

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Suggests they roosted there after building abandoned

Maybe during it’s slow collapse to ruin

So this was one of those times we dug things up not really knowing if there was much use for the finds, and thankfully it turned out that all that painstaking effort was worth it.

So we can now picture a small aspect of the villas history – it’s been abandoned and is starting to fall apart – the owls get in and roost, and must have done that for some time, which they wouldn’t have done if it was occupied, so they were probably saxon era owls

 

So from the small, too the large

Digging a site like this is a funny mix of the very small details, and thumping great big structures that can be a bit hard to understand from close up

 

Structures

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This is that same hole that had me standing in it with a helmet. Closest is the area where someone stoked the fires, beyond this is the hot room, we found the towers of tile that would have supported a floor surface.

But that floor was long gone, instead the void that has been under the floor was now full of the plaster that had been on the walls.

2 or 3 of us spent quite a few sessions in the floor gently recovering the plaster, some pieces were a couple of inches across and sometimes you got sets together , sometimes even bigger pieces.

It looks amazing when it comes out of the ground slightly damp.

Not only did was get lines, but also what looked like flowers.

We got a vast amount of plaster out – all stacked up in multiple veg crates from a supermarket

One day someone can have a go at a really tricky jigsaw!

 

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The photos are all from our site

Top left you can see the hollow flue tiles that would have carried the hot air and smoke up the inside of the walls.

To the right is the stoke hole arch.

Left is how it worked, and on the right the remains of some of the tile towers, Each tile in them was a bit over an inch thick.

So we can see multiple phases – one where there was enough money for fancy painted plaster, then another later when they didn’t want a bathroom anymore and the plaster was falling off the walls

 

Tesselated Floor

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Ok so it’s not a mosaic like you see on tv, but we were very happy to find it – we’d been finding loose tesserae for some time, then one day extending the trench I came down onto in-place tesserae – not a large patch, and not in a great condition – but still it’s a mosaic. It had suffered from plough damage as so many do. That was a really special day.

 

 

 

 

Sill feature on south side of Room 8 and in Room 3 South corridor

Over 900 terracotta tesserae were found 1m beyond trench edge (bottom left) in Trench 3

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villa32It’s not easy to know when these hearth features date to – was it the kitchen, or was it a later semi-industrial re-use of the building as often happens

Hearth showing yellow clay blocks

(sun dried) and central pit with charcoal in the base

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Furnace half section showing part of flue lined with black burnt deposits (top)

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villa35villa36This is their latest trench – in what we’d been using as a car park the other side of a hedge – as you can see it looks like they’ve established the extent of the building

 

 

 

 

So what do we have when we put all the individual bits of information together? A really nice photo-montage

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that’s an awful lot of soil and flint carefully excavated! But it’s not easy to read, so here’s the plan..

 

 

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The building techniques suggest the bit to the right of the black wall is older, so we’ve got multiple phases of building, and a fair size building at that

You can see two corridors with rooms between. It’s speculation on my part but maybe the north corridor was for slaves and servants, and the south one for the occupants.

 

 

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Gatehampton Roman Villa Excavation

www.soagarch.org.uk

villa@soagarch.org.uk

Excavation dates for 2016

Open most Sundays June to October