Phase 2 - 2005

The excavation

This has been another good year for SOAG at the Roman villa excavation. We were pleased that the Open Day in July proved popular despite the bad weather. With this event and some new diggers, over 100 people have spent time at the site this year; to dig, to wash finds, to watch the work in progress or just enjoy the view.

New developments include the use of a mechanical digger to clear large areas of the site, mostly of the substantial spoil heaps that we have produced over the last few years. We also used the machine to take the surface off new trench areas, a move that was popular with the diggers, saving them the hard work of mattocking off the turf. More of the geophysical survey of the landscape around the villa has been completed and the cleared area of the site field has been surveyed too. It is planned to link all these surveys together.

Our main focus this year has been on extending Trench 7, we were particularly interested in confirming the position of the north wall at this end of the building, which we thought at one time, may have been largely robbed out. As indicated by the resistivity survey, it is on the same alignment and of similar construction to the first section of wall ever found by SOAG at the villa, about 15 metres to the east, in Trench 3.

The geophysical survey

A geophysical survey was carried out by SOAG Geophysics expert ,Geoff Deakin, covering part of the villa building and an area to the north-east. Access to this area was limited by old spoil heaps and rubble so we used a mechanical digger to clear the whole area. The survey was carried out using RM15 resistivity equipment that will detect walls and buried rubble rather than pits or ditches. Two areas of approximately 20 metres by 40 metres close to the current trenches were surveyed, on a NNE-SSW alignment. In the survey of the area around Trench 8 the high resistivity of the walls and rubble spreads of the villa building can be seen. The most striking feature however is the large area of low resistivity, about 12 metres by 4 metres in the centre of the plot that may be a floor or open courtyard area. A small portion of this was excavated in the corner of Trench 8, revealing a concrete surface less than 5 cms thick. A small exploratory trench (10) was dug over two parallel lines of high resistivity running northwards from the building. However these turned out to be shallow deposits of modern rubble left after the clearing of the site. The completion of this part of the geophysical survey allows us to plan new trenches next year over the north and central areas of the villa building.

geophysics resistivity plot

Resistivity survey of the villa

Two new areas beyond the villa site were also surveyed this year with the aim of plotting and identifying archaeological features in the surrounding area, to increase our understanding of the wider landscape around the villa. The building is part of a Roman farmstead and a large area to the North West has been surveyed already revealing the enclosures, track ways and other features of the Roman period as well as part of a Bronze Age barrows cemetery.

Trench 7

This trench over the heated rooms at the western end of the villa was extended on three sides this year. Extending on the north east side has given us a better look at the stokeroom and part of an adjacent corridor or room. The substantial north wall of the building is constructed of flint and mortar and is 0.5 metres wide. The corridor or room is just less than three metres wide, the same as the corridor on the south side of the building. We have found patches of chalk and mortar that may be part of the floor surface, but we do know that the walls were covered in a thin layer of plaster, dark pink decorated with black and white spots. The end wall of this area has a feature that could be interpreted as a step or doorway to the stokeroom. However the main access to the stokeroom, for bringing in wood fuel for the furnace is more likely to have been on the other side.

stokeroom in trench7 extension

Trench 7 north east extension

The stokeroom floor is of course almost a metre below that of the corridor and the main villa building, being on the same level as the under floor hypocaust system. The villa is set into a slight rise of the field so it is not surprising that the rear wall of the stokeroom has a wide footing to buttress it against the slope. The floor has a thick layer of charcoal and soot up to 30cm deep. Above this the fill consists mostly of soil layers with some rubble but mostly large quantities of pottery and bone, often in much bigger fragments than we find elsewhere on the site. This area may have filled gradually with domestic refuse, when the hypocaust was no longer in use. This contrasts with the fill of the hypocaust and the ditch which both appear to have been deliberately back-filled with rubble.

brooch

Bronze Dolphin type Bow Brooch

The highlight of the year of course has to be the discovery of the 1st-2nd century Dolphin type Bow brooch, just outside the villa wall. The brooch was used to secure clothing and would probably have been one of a pair with a chain between. The preservation is remarkable, with the pin still intact and one link of the chain still attached. It is thought that these objects were kept as heirlooms, which explains why a brooch of this early date is found in a building of the mid 3rd to late 4th century. Also found close to the wall was a 6cm by 4 cm fragment of lead approximately 1 mm thick, a small late third century bronze coin and the base of a Nene Valley ware beaker.

The south western side of Trench 7 was extended to look further at the area outside the building. This proved to be very interesting, with the spread of flint rubble from the nearby wall, separated from a deposit of wall plaster and mortar by a shallow gulley. All three contexts contained many finds. These included three more small late third century bronze coins, some delicate fragments of copper alloy jewellery, two s-shaped nail hooks, another fragment of lead and several black and white tesserae. Under the mortary layer, a chalk surface with a semi-circular raised concrete edge was revealed. This may be another room on the end of the building and this area will be extended further next year to establish whether it is enclosed by a wall.

chalk surface in trench7 south west extension

Trench 7 south west extension

south corridor

South corridor between trench 7 and 8

The area between Trench 7 and 8 was opened up and confirmed that the corridor on the south side of the building extends for over 16 metres. The floor of this new section is consistent with what we have already seen; the chalk floor surface is evident only on the northern side and most of the floor area is covered in a burnt occupation layer with at least two hearths. No laid tesserae were found, but many loose ones and some small mosaic tesserae.

ditch - trench 9

Trench 9 ditch

glass rim

Glass fragment

Trench 9 - the ditch

Further investigation of the ditch has shown that beneath two layers of rubble fill, the ditch is lined with a layer of soil and beneath this a flinty layer that may have been used to stabilise the sides. It was in the lining of the ditch that a collection of 23 shoe studs were found in a small area 10cm by 10cm. It is possible to see the outline of the shoe, even though all trace of the leather sole has gone the studs in the centre are straight, hammered in vertically; those at the edges are bent over. Thirteen more loose studs were found. A fragment of glass, probably the rim of a small vessel was also found.

Open day

This event was organised as part of the Council for British Archaeology’s National Archaeology Week in July, one of only four sites open in Oxfordshire. After weeks of hot dry weather we were unlucky to have heavy rain all morning making it very difficult to prepare the site. The landowner as always, was a very welcoming host to both diggers and visitors and quickly cleared us space under cover to transfer the planned activities indoors. Fortunately many visitors still turned up, pleased that unlike other events that day, we had not cancelled and several returned in the afternoon when the weather improved. Visitors were able to look at the display of photos and finds and have tea and coffee while sheltering from the rain.

open day visitors

Visitors at the open day

An important aspect of the day was to encourage young people to take part in archaeology; several enjoyed laying a tessellated pavement using real Roman tesserae. In the afternoon we were able to open up the trenches so that visitors could try trowelling and see more of the site. As many as 70 people were on site that day, including diggers, SOAGs and visitors and it is an event that we hope to repeat next year.

Hazel Williams - Project Co-Director