Monk Sherborne, a village north west of Basingstoke, lies in an area rich in archaeological finds. In 1996, chalk quarrying revealed the remains of a Roman winged-corridor house and this was excavated (a ‘rescue’ dig) by Steve Teague of Winchester Museum Service.
Details emerged of a building with chalk foundations, extensively damaged by plough action. The north wing had been modified by the addition of a channelled hypocaust, but there was no sign of scorching or burning and the system may not have seen any use. Dating evidence suggested that the building belonged to the second half of the 3rd century.
A corn-drier, associated with an aisled building about 30m away, had at least seen some action. Clear signs of scorching and burning and a significant basal layer of charcoal showed that the structure had been put to work. The dating evidence indicated that the feature went out of use in the later 4th century.
The most remarkable finds from the site had nothing to do with the Roman occupation however. In the top layers of a large Roman pit were an intricately decorated, iron, silver wire-inlaid belt buckle and a square belt fitting, both dating to the 7th century, but not from a matching-set.
Buckles of this type are rare in Britain, and mostly restricted to Kent, but the likely place of manufacture, for both buckle and plate, was on the Continent, in Francia. The zoomorphic interlace and beaked snake design is known from Continental buckles, gravestones and even coffins. Interpretations of its significance range from the purely decorative to providing protection from evil.
Protection for the Monk Sherborne pieces came in a surprising way – from the layer of iron corrosion which coated both objects. X-rays revealed the remarkable secrets lurking beneath and the painstaking work of Bob Holmes, Museum Conservator, brought the full detail to light.
The Monk Sherborne site did provide something of a context for these finds. Traces of a third building, of tentative Saxon date, yielded evidence of metalworking in the form of heavily burnt flints and slag. We can only be thankful that these two pieces of ‘scrap’, if that is what they were, didn’t find their way into the smith’s furnace.
The Monk Sherborne buckle can be seen in the Willis Museum, Basingstoke.
Teague (2005) Manor Farm, Monk Sherborne, Archaeological Investigations in 1996, Proc Hants Field Club, 60, 64-135
A1996.47 archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.