Phase 2 - 2006

Introduction

This has been another successful year of excavation for SOAG at the Roman villa excavation, with a marked increase in participation both by experienced diggers and those completely new to archaeology. Nearly 60 people dug at the excavation in 2006, and we were pleased that these included several family groups and students. New information leaflets provided guidance to improve the digging experience.

Overhead photographs of the site were taken in July providing an excellent view of the current trenches and of the whole western section of the villa building.

A large new area of trench was cleared by mechanical digger on the north side of the building and work concentrated there in 2006. A further trench over a ditch 20 metres north of the building was also opened ready for excavation in 2007.

The 2006 season

Trench 7 was extended on the northern side by an area of 80 sq metres, using a mechanical digger to remove modern disturbance, rubble and some topsoil. A small area on the north side of the stokeroom was also opened up and a small area to the north of the enclosure ditch. Whilst the digger was on site a further trench was opened 20 metres to the north of the building over a linear cropmark that was assumed to be another ditch. The accurate positioning of these new areas was made possible by earlier resistivity surveys of the site field by SOAG Geoff Deakin. Depending on the number of volunteers, this was expected to provide work for 2006 and 2007. Work in 2006 concentrated on a six metre section of the corridor on the north side, the stokeroom and the small area north of the ditch.

Aerial view from the south of the current trenches

View from the south of the current trenches showing the western end of the villa building

Overhead photographs of the site taken in July 2006 provide an excellent overview of the current trenches. The layout and composition of the western end of the villa building can be seen clearly. Taken from the south, this is a trench area of 15 by 20 metres; the large partly excavated room to right of centre in the photo is six metres square. The parallel flint and chalk walls of the corridor on the south side of the villa are clearly visible. It has a chalk floor with several hearths and two areas of terracotta tessellated pavement (left foreground). To the west of the central room is the stokeroom, main hypocaust and to the south a further partially heated room with an opus signinum floor and two box tiles visible in the east wall. In the background the pale line of a gravel deposit lies between the north wall of the villa and the villa enclosure ditch in the North West corner of the trench. A new area of the trench (top right) was opened in 2006 over the corridor on the north side. A small section of this corridor is visible in the picture.

The stokeroom area

The north west corner of the stokeroom was excavated. The footings of the narrow west wall of the stokeroom were overlaid with charcoal, spread from the deposit of soot and charcoal up to 40cms deep within the stokeroom. Over this is the large deposit of domestic rubbish - many large bone and pottery fragments - that suggest the stokeroom area was used to dump refuse after it went out of use. Part of a cow or ox skull, complete with one horn, and a long bone were found in this deposit, as well as some bones that may be those of a goose.

It is not certain whether the northern wall line of the building continues westward beyond the stokeroom. Access is difficult because this area butts against the field fence line and is over a metre deep. A small area of concreted surface was found previously to the west of the stokeroom wall. This is on the same floor level as the stokeroom, possibly a working area providing access to the stokeroom. The stokeroom, heated rooms and south corridor form the western end of the main villa building and the geophysical surveys support this. However, it does appear that there may be at least some continuation of the structure a few metres to the west, perhaps a working area on the north side and one small extra room on the south side.

The north corridor

After the removal of the remaining topsoil in the new trench area, it was possible to see, in parallel lines across the trench, the deposits and features between the enclosure ditch and the building to the south. The line of the ditch runs across the north side of the trench; the fill is pale and mortary. South of this is a metre of the natural reddish silty soil with flints that the ditch was cut into. Next is a gravel deposit less than a metre wide that may have been a path running alongside the north wall of the building. A similar feature was noticed when part of the building was excavated in Trench 3, 15 metres to the east. Close to the north wall, particularly by the stokeroom is a linear deposit up to 40cms wide of broken tile and this extends in a thinner spread along the wall line eastwards.

During 2006 the north corridor was excavated for a length of six metres eastward with no dividing walls found. A small section of a thin mortary floor is exposed under the layer of demolition rubble. Wall footings survive with one or two courses of flint above floor level and with painted plaster still attached in places. Most of this area was covered in a layer of soil and demolition rubble from the walls. On the south side, close to the inner wall of the corridor, was a substantial deposit of mortar with many small fragments of painted wall plaster. Pottery found included a large piece of a 3rd-4th century Oxfordshire pottery shallow bowl with red and white slip decoration and two fragments of Oxfordshire red-slipped ware bowls with moulded decoration depicting hunting scenes.

3rd-4th century Oxfordshire with red and white slip decoration

3rd-4th century Oxfordshire pottery with red and white slip decoration

Hunting scene on Oxfordshire red slipped ware

3rd-4th century Oxfordshire red slipped ware with moulded decoration depicting hunting scene

The tessellated pavement

Tessellated floor

New area of tessellated floor

The north east corner of the central room was also excavated in the new trench area. A small area of terracotta tessellated pavement approx 75cm by 40 cm was found unexpectedly in this corner, with two long terracotta tiles forming a possible doorway to the next room to the east. This was a surprise as the other three corners and the west side of the room have been excavated and found to have a floor made with crushed chalk, up to 25cms thick. As often happens, this discovery came at the end of the excavation during wet weather and the area immediately began to fill with water, so it was reluctantly backfilled to preserve it and we look forward to finding the extent of the tesserae next year. The centre of this room remains unexcavated (square area of turf in centre of overhead photo).The tessellated surface seen so far, consisting of large terracotta tesserae roughly cut into approx. 3cm cubes, is particularly well preserved as it lies beneath a compact layer of tiles and mortar. The patches of tessellated pavement in the south corridor were covered with a mixed deposit of soil and demolition rubble and were not quite as well protected. It may be possible to see more clearly what material was used as a base when the tesserae were laid.

The substantial deposit of tiles and mortar above the tessellated pavement extends for about two metres by up to one metre. The good preservation of the tiles and the large number of complete or nearly complete examples suggests a roof collapse although there are some fragments of floor tiles and bricks. This is unusual for the site, there are several complete ridge tiles, imbrex and tegulae (including one with both paw prints and hobnail pattern).Whether a roof fall or the result of the scavenging of building material from the villa, the tiles have formed a protective cover over the tessellated pavement. Roman owl pellets were found previously on the chalk floor surface on the west side of this room (see Roman Owls report). It is interesting that the owls would have occupied this part of the building after it was abandoned but while the roof still provided some protection.

Tiles over tessellated floor

Tiles over the tessellated floor

The ditch

A section of the enclosure ditch was excavated in 2005 and this trench was extended northwards to investigate a chalk surface up to one metre wide overlying a shallow feature in the baulk of the ditch trench that looked like a channel running into the ditch. This proved to be one of two roughly circular, shallow depressions, 30-40cm across and about 30cms deep, filled with chalk and some flint stones. These features and the chalk surface do not appear to respect the line of the ditch and may relate to a later phase when the ditch had gone out of use. The close proximity of this ditch to the north wall of the villa suggests that it may have been constructed with an earlier smaller phase of the building. A ditch feature 20 metres to the north could be part of a later larger enclosure system. At this stage we do not have supporting dating evidence to confirm this; the second ditch will be excavated in 2007.

Open days, visits and talks

The site was open for visitors for two Sundays during the CBA National Archaeology Week in July. This attracted visitors and groups to the site to see the work in progress and for a guided tour of this substantial part of the villa building with its heated rooms and other interesting features. Several family groups joined the dig and for many this was their first experience of excavation. The new trench provided a good area for new diggers to practice their skills on the topsoil and demolition rubble and to discover and handle Roman artefacts; pottery, hobnails, painted plaster and lots of bone. An 11 year old first time digger found one of the best pieces of pottery, the large piece of Oxfordshire pottery with red and white slip.

Students at open day

Students at the open day

Hazel Williams - Project Co-Director