Hampshire Archaeology

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Buried in time – a Roman burial from Hurstbourne Priors.

When a latrine pit at a Girl Guide camp at Manor Farm, Hurstbourne Priors, was being machine dug in 1988, a human femur (thigh bone) came to light. On further investigation, more human bone was found, together with two complete pottery vessels of Roman date and some iron nails. The landowners contacted Andover Museum, and this led to the full excavation of the burial, with the help of members of the Andover Archaeological Society, especially Max Dacre and Terry Green.

Hurstbourne Priors - excavation in progress

Hurstbourne Priors – excavation in progress

Eleanor Porter, her son, Max Dacre (l) and Terry Green contemplate their day's work.

Eleanor Porter, her son, Max Dacre (l) and Terry Green contemplate their day’s work.

The burial turned out to be of an adult (probably male), lying in an extended supine (face up) position. He would have been about 5’6” in height (1.6m) and between 35 and 50 years old at the time of death. Over 50 corroded iron nails were found, distributed around the grave pit, indicating that the body had been buried in a coffin.

One of the pottery vessels was of a well-known style of early Roman ware – a samian dish. These glossy red products, imported in some quantity before local potteries were properly established, often carried the maker’s mark. This particular vessel is stamped with the characters “CELSIANI.M”, (‘made by Celsianus’). The die stamp has been found at Lezoux in the Auvergne region of France. This site was one of the principal centres of pottery production in central Gaul, and exported its wares to all parts of the northern Roman Empire. This particular form of samian dish was first made around AD 150.

The Alice Holt (l) and samian vessels.

The Alice Holt (l) and samian vessels.

The other vessel was a grey-ware flagon, with a burnished rim and upper half body, with vertical burnished lines on the neck. It had an incised swastika graffiti, which was probably the owner’s identification mark. It was made in the Alice Holt kilns in the east of Hampshire and the type has a date range of AD 200-280, with examples from Silchester that can be dated to AD 270. This suggests that the burial was of late 3rd century date, but that the samian was of some antiquity, perhaps a treasured heirloom, before being included in the grave.

A suitably reverential group of villagers gather to hear abouyt the discovery.  The pots have been placed in the position in which they were found.

A suitably reverential group of villagers gather to hear about the discovery. The pots have been replaced in the positions in which they were found.

The site lies between Andover and Whitchurch, about 20 metres to the west of the Bourne Rivulet (a tributary of the River Test) just to the north of Hurstbourne Priors parish church. Although the area to the east of Andover is generally rich in Roman remains, along the corridor of the Portway Roman road, such finds are sparse in the immediate vicinity of Manor Farm. Discoveries at Dirty Corner, 3km to the north however, may indicate the presence of a Roman Villa.

A1988.37

Further reading

Proc Hants Field Club and Arch Soc, 47 (1992), David Allen, A Third Century Roman Burial from Manor Farm, Hurstbourne Priors, pp. 253-257.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, with help from Stacie Elliot.

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