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Hampshire excavations # 6

An occasional series, covering Hampshire digs large and small: the Anglo-Saxon village at Chalton, 1971-76.

After some exploratory investigations in 1971, a major excavation took place on the hilltop called Church Down the following year, led by Peter Addyman, of the University of Southampton.  Tim Champion took over the reins in 1973 and saw things to a conclusion.

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Aerial view in 1972. Building A20, on the left hand side, is a large, long structure with opposed doors, individual large postholes and internal division. It is 12.5m x 7.5m

The work revealed the remains of a number of rectangular timber buildings.  From the ‘several thousand’ postholes excavated at least sixty-one main structures could be identified, assignable to a number of phases.  The buildings ranged in size from small square plans with a single doorway, via larger oblongs, with two doors set opposite each other in the long walls, to structures with either buttress- or verandah-posts.  An anomalous building encountered in the final year of the dig measured 24m in length and 5m in width and was made up of four unequal sections all slightly out of alignment. There were also four sunken-floored buildings of typical ‘grubenhaus‘ type, although one, at over 8.6m in length was of the ‘giant’ variety.

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Close up of building A20.

Until the final season finds were comparatively few, consisting of grass-tempered and sandy pottery, ironwork and an escutcheon from a hanging bowl.  The final flourish produced a wealth of artefacts, and faunal and environmental remains; loom weights, spindle-whorls and thread pickers, show that wool production was important.

A date for the settlement somewhere in the 6th and 7th centuries is appropriate and the range of finds indicates far-reaching contacts for this rural hilltop settlement.  Oysters must have been gathered or traded from the Portsmouth Harbour region and among the pottery fabrics are wheel-turned vessels from northern France. Glass and quernstones were also imported.

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Period piece: The Saxon inhabitants of Chalton may have looked like this (Weorod, 2017).

Work on the final reports is still in hand and the excavation images come from two ‘Rescue’ transparencies of 1972 and from the collection of Gareth Thomas.  Gareth has been a keen visitor to sites, buildings, excavations and museums across the south for more than forty years, and has donated much of his photographic archive to the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Further reading:

Addyman, P & Leigh, D, 1973, The Anglo-Saxon village at Chalton, Med Archaeol, 17, 1-25.

Champion, T, 1977, Chalton, Current Archaeology 59, 364-71

Series by:  Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

 

 

 

Hampshire excavations # 5

An occasional series covering Hampshire digs large and small; the Greyhound and Albany Hotel sites, 1989 and 1997.

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Part of the zoomorphic roof finial (see below). The nose is 70mm across.

Fordingbridge lies just to the west of the New Forest, about 4 km to the south-east of Rockbourne Roman villa. It sits on the west bank of the Hampshire Avon, the river being spanned by a seven-arched stone bridge dating from the 14th or 15th centuries. Fordingbridge functioned as a market centre at least from the 13th century and was the head of a Deanery including Ringwood and Christchurch. Archaeological excavations in the area just to the north of the bridge have revealed a sequence of 13th and 14th century buildings with interesting decorative features, as well as a 17th to 18th century tannery.

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Flint wall footings of the earlier (Phase 2) occupation

Hearths and Fires

The first archaeological work, by the Avon Valley Archaeological Society under the direction of Anthony Light, took place in 1989. This followed the demolition of the Greyhound and Albany hotels. The core of the Greyhound had been known to date from the second half of the 17th century. Excavation revealed that this area had been occupied by a small medieval cottage to which a hearth of reddened clay had been added in the 15th century. In the following century the cottage was rebuilt and given an inglenook fireplace. An additional room with a hearth of overlapping peg tile was then added, using the old hearth as a foundation. The house was destroyed by fire, probably in the late 16th century. The Greyhound Inn was built a little before 1663 – a fairly worn Charles I farthing (c.1640) was found in a footing trench – but the building was destroyed in 1672 during a fire which affected much of the town. It was reconstructed two years later, using some of the original foundations. A half-cellar, employing natural springs to cool the stored barrels of beer, was utilised into the second half of the 20th century.

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Wessex Archaeology work begins: Phil Harding in attendance.

In 1997 Wessex Archaeology undertook further excavations, with Phil Harding directing the work. One of the three trenches included the footprint of the Albany Hotel, premises which had been rebuilt as tenements in 1879 and documented as the Albany Temperance Hotel in 1881. Excavation revealed an earlier rectangular building of the 13th or 14th centuries with flint foundations. The gable end faced Bridge Street and the substantial structure extended back at least two bays. The archaeological report of 2003 suggests that the unusual siting allowed the owners to collect tolls from traffic using the bridge. These owners were probably of some social standing as the overlying demolition layer contained a fine assemblage of ceramic building material. This included fragments of at least three louvres. The absence of sooting on their interior indicates that they were used for ventilation, rather than the escape of smoke. They all have some green glaze and the fabric suggests that they were produced by the kilns at Laverstock near Salisbury.

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The cow reunited with its ear- a leg and other fragments were also found.

Other roof furniture included coxcomb ridge tiles. These are also of Laverstock-type, as was a very interesting find – a ‘zoomorphic finial’ fragment. This relatively realistic representation of a cow’s head would have been attached to a ridge tile. It has applied ears and horns (one missing). Other fragments include a leg and possible tail.

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The view from the bridge shows the proximity of the River Avon

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One of the ‘barrel pits’ (right)

It has been suggested that the cow finial may have had symbolic value, linking with the later tanning activity. The ‘Albany Hotel’ trench revealed features associated with tanning activity dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. A stone-lined trough with a brick floor contained lime and clay deposits, one of which yielded an 18th century pottery sherd. In addition, four barrel pits were probably used for the immersion of hides in tanning solutions. The animal bone evidence suggests that both cattle hides and sheep skins were processed at the site.

Further reading

A1989.30 & A1997.37 Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Hampshire County Council 1997, ‘Fordingbridge Archaeological Assessment Document’ in Hampshire Extensive Urban Studies. Online:< http://documents.hants.gov.uk/archaeology/28414FordingbridgeExtensiveUrbanSurvey.pdf>

Harding, P. and Light, A. 2003, Excavations in Fordingbridge, 1989 and 1997: The former Albany and Greyhound Hotel site, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 58, pp. 130-176. Online: < http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/2000s/vol58/Harding.pdf>

Light, A. 1990 ‘Fordingbridge – Greyhound Hotel’ in Hughes, M.F. [Ed] Archaeology in Hampshire 1989, Hampshire County Council., pp.25-30.

Series by:         Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.

Hampshire excavations # 3

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.

A ‘Banjo’ Enclosure in Micheldever Wood, 1973 – 1979.

‘Banjo’ enclosures are identified by their shape – a more or less circular enclosure, with outer bank, and parallel ditches leading away from a single entrance.  The name was bestowed by B T Perry, when he was studying different forms of Wessex earthworks in the 1960s.  He selected Bramdean, east of Winchester, as a typical example and excavated there in 1965 & 66, in the 1970s and in the 1980s.  By this time the initial recognition of the type-site, i.e. the ‘banjo’ (O==) had been replaced by the realisation that they often formed part of a larger complex or ‘syndrome’.

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Micheldever Wood, an aerial view: the ditch sections of the ‘banjo’ enclosure can be seen curving round in the middle of the clearing – outer ditches (the ‘syndrome’) show as faint lines in the corn field.

Perry’s 1960’s excavations were comparatively limited and ten years later the opportunity arose to investigate another example, although under quite different and difficult circumstances.  The route of the M3 motorway, from Basingstoke to Twyford Down, sliced through Micheldever Wood and, although archaeological surveys had taken place, the Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees formed an impenetrable mass across the area concerned.  It was not until a huge geological test-pit was dug that the enclosure ditch and Iron Age pottery came to light.  Further survey work showed that an extensive occupation site lay under the line of the proposed motorway.

The main excavation, led by Peter Fasham, took place from August 1975 to March 1976, with follow ups in mid-winter 1977-78 and 1979. Because of other commitments to M3 archaeological work, post-excavation analysis took a while – and publication was in 1987.

Pit diggers – and the photographer’s vantage point.

The main period of occupation at the Micheldever ‘banjo’ took place in the last two centuries BC (Iron Age).  The evidence suggests that the enclosure was surrounded at that time by both arable and pasture fields, as well as woodland.  Within the settlement were at least 14 pits, many of which could have been used for grain storage, and the animal bones recovered showed that cattle, sheep and pigs were present.  Pig bones occurred more often in the ditch than those of sheep, and this appears to have been a deliberate, chosen method of disposal.

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Animal bones were often present in the lower ditch fills in what appeared to be a deliberate placement.

Eighteen human burials were found, eleven of which were of infants.  They included a double grave of ‘unique closeness’ – presumably twins.  One of the adults was of Romano-British date. He had been buried in hobnailed boots.  His skeleton had extensive indications of arthritis, particularly in his shoulders and back, with a healed fracture to a leg (tibia) which had developed osteitis.  His skull displayed evidence of severe infections in both jaw and sinuses and, to cap it all, his scalp as well.  It must have been a hard life.

Other finds from the Iron Age use of the site included pottery and briquetage (salt trays), clay loomweights and spindle whorls and a number of metal objects, including socketed sickles.

Following the excavation at Micheldever Wood, archaeologists were prepared to accept ‘banjos’ as settlements but, in 1993, Barry Cunliffe excavated such a site at Nettlebank Copse, near Danebury.  Far from clarifying  the use of these enigmatic enclosures, his work showed that an ‘open’ settlement of pre 300 BC was surrounded by the ‘banjo’ ditch around the time of its abandonment.

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The ‘banjo’ enclosure at Nettlebank Copse – investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

The site may then have lain mainly dormant, apart from the quarrying of chalk, until the 1st century BC, when it was used for specialised purposes such as feasting, but not occupation.

The other feature of ‘banjos’ is that with the increase in aerial reconnaissance, particularly the use of Lidar, the number of known examples continues to grow. Twenty four were listed for Hampshire in the 1960s, whereas the number on the county AHBR is now 124!

Every picture tells a story!

Further reading:

Cunliffe B & Poole C (2000) Nettlebank Copse, Wherwell, 1993, English Heritage & OUCA Monog 49, Vol 2 part 5.

Fasham, P (1987) A Banjo Enclosure at Micheldever Wood, Hampshire, Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc, Monog 5.

Perry, B Excavations at Bramdean, Hampshire 1983 & 1984, with some further discussions of the Banjo syndrome. Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 42, 35-42

Archive held as A1978.15 (R 27)  by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Series by:       Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hampshire excavations # 1

An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small

Houghton Down, Stockbridge; 1922, 1994, 1997.

Was this both a Roman villa and an Iron Age farm? A dig in 1922 by E A Rawlence, a Salisbury surveyor, found a substantial Roman aisled building containing a bath house. The excavated baths were covered by a shed until the 1930s. Rubbish accumulated, including a dead pig and barbed wire, and the hollows were eventually filled in. Later, aerial photographs showed circular buildings, storage pits, and fenced and ditched fields in the immediate vicinity.

Excavations by Professor Barry Cunliffe and his team in 1994 and 1997 for the Danebury Environs Project showed that, yes, it had been occupied, not quite continuously, between 700 BC and the 4th century AD. Generations of farmers extended the fields, pastures and ditches, dug wells, buried their dead, and built furnaces for metal-working and corn-drying ovens. The main activity took place in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, when there may have been more than one family in residence. By about the year 200, the main buildings were in masonry rather than timber, and included the aisled hall and a narrow building, also used for living and eating in. The farm had expanded from a modest to a prosperous state.

The aisled building, 27.2m long by 13.6m wide, had been carefully constructed and was a substantial structure that would have been visible for miles around. It had a chalk floor, full-height flint walls on greensand corner foundations, a central nave and light from a timbered clerestory. The roof, supported on 14 stone and timber piers, was made of hexagonal Purbeck stone tiles. In the south wall (and probably also in the north) there was a large door opening – over 2m wide.

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The bath suite at the western end of the aisled building; the abandoned ‘cold plunge’ is at the top of the picture, the replacement to the right.

By the late 3rd century the building had been subdivided by timber partitions. It had a large oven inside. It was evidently now the main working area of a moderately prosperous farm. It also had a large bath suite retrofitted into the northwest corner. A cold plunge pool was started outside the building, but abandoned after only a day’s work! Making a breach in the gable end wall had caused serious structural damage, and so the design was hastily changed and the plunge pool moved to the north side instead of the west – but still outside the main rooms!

A new strip building then enlarged the farm’s living accommodation. Beer was brewed from surplus corn. But there was still little in the way of fine, non-local pottery or decorative ornaments. By the end of its life, in the middle of the 4th century, the building housed a smithy and piles of building material for recycling.

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Infant burial F295, discovered inside the aisled hall

The dig unearthed 13 burials. Two were Roman cremations, two were adults buried close together in the old western enclosure ditch, and nine were infants, buried, here as elsewhere in Roman Britain, under the floors of the Roman buildings.

Houghton Down archives A1994.35 & A1997.55 are in the care of Hampshire Cultural Trust

Further Reading:

The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape, Vol 2 Part 6: Houghton Down, Stockbridge, Hants, 1994, by Barry Cunliffe and Cynthia Poole. English Heritage and OUCA Mono 49, 2000.

And Vol 2 Part 1: Houghton Down, Longstock, Hants,1997, Mono 71, 2008.

Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

 

Buried in time – three Bronze Age rings

A previous blog (Buried in time – a Saxon Vill at Cowdery’s Down) described the well-preserved evidence for timber architecture dating from the 6th and 7th centuries AD found during excavation prior to housing development at Cowdery’s Down. The site, on the crest of a chalk ridge just to the east of Basingstoke, actually produced evidence of occupation from the Early Bronze Age right through to the English Civil War, the earliest features being three ring ditches*.

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Aerial view of excavation in progress – Barton’s Lane, the straight road on the left, is now a shady avenue. ‘Oliver’s Dell’ is the curving enclosure to the right of the dig.

The three Early Bronze Age circular ditches were close together and ranged in size from 15m to 20m across. During the 1978 season of excavation the ditches were sectioned and found to be filled with chalk rubble; they had trench-like straight sides giving no reliable evidence of the former presence of central mounds. The centres of the rings were examined but no features were discovered. The ring ditches may have originally surrounded round barrows (the standard funerary monument of the Bronze Age) which were later destroyed and ploughed-out, but the evidence was inconclusive.

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Rings revealed: digging a section of one of the ditches.

Two of the rings were cut by field boundaries dating to the late Iron Age, proving that if barrow mounds had been present, then they must have been levelled before that period; ancient snail evidence suggests that the chalk rubble fill derived from the sides of the ditches rather than from a central mound. The original form of these circular monuments, like many other excavated ring ditches on chalk, remains problematic.

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The female burial during excavation.

One of the ditch sections revealed a crouched inhumation burial cut into the bottom of the fill. This was of a female aged 30-40 years. She was facing towards the centre of the ring and was accompanied by grave goods which included a jet toggle and two ‘pestle pendants’, probably of shale. These were recovered from the beneath the neck area and have been dated to c.1700-1500 BC. Pottery representing a maximum of five vessels was recovered from the same ditch. It was stratigraphically later than the burial and in a tradition suggesting a Middle Bronze Age date (1400-1000 BC). At the end of the digging season, the remainder of ditch fill was removed, and one of the three rings was found not to have any pottery associated with it.

* ‘ring ditch’ is an archaeological term describing a circular ditch.  They can vary in size and date and the same phrase can be used for a barrow ditch (mostly from the Bronze Age) or the gully surrounding a roundhouse (mostly from the Iron Age).

Further reading

A1978.1  Archive deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Fasham, P.J. 1982, Excavation of Four Ring-Ditches, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 38, pp. 19-56.

Millett, M. 1983, Excavations at Cowdery’s Down, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1978-81, Arch J, Vol 140, pp.151-279.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

Buried in time – ‘the unique qualities of human actions’

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Petersfield Heath; George Anelay (left) Claire Woodhead and Stuart Needham discuss the latest discovery.

To Petersfield, to see the third year of excavation at the ‘People of the Heath’ community project, and an opportunity for Hampshire Cultural Trust conservator, Claire Woodhead, to discuss the processes involved in dealing with their latest Bronze Age find (for an update on the project see their excellent bulletins).

The twenty or more burial monuments on the Heath were first put on record in a comprehensive fashion by a youthful Stuart Piggott, a native of Petersfield. Several small diameter circles were evident among the larger barrows and the project has now examined four of them. George Anelay who along with Stuart Needham is directing the project, told me how they all differed and that they hadn’t revealed an obvious similarity of purpose, with no central burial feature present. It put me in mind of one of Stuart Piggott’s own memorable passages (in ‘Ancient Europe’ – he went on to become Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh) about ‘the unique qualities of human actions’ and their inability to create identical sets of circumstances – all this in a pre-industrial age of course!

It took me back to my own adventure with an early Bronze Age burial site – in Buckinghamshire – which found a remarkable parallel in Hampshire – with, it goes without saying, differences in detail. We’ve already visited Stockbridge Down in this series to view an execution cemetery and the hillfort at Woolbury, but in the late 1930s, J F S Stone and N Gray Hill excavated a round barrow, which ‘although small…was found to possess some unusual features’.   The main occupant was a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by one of the distinctive vessels and a bronze awl, but the rarity was the surrounding ditch, which was composed of five segments – they are usually continuous. In 1978 I had the good fortune to dig a ring ditch threatened by quarrying at Ravenstone, Bucks, and this monument was composed of four ditch segments with, at the centre, a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by a pot and a bronze awl.

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Recording the Ravenstone segments

But that wasn’t the end of the story. At Ravenstone, the female burial was a secondary interment; beneath her was a deep burial pit containing a coffin – but no body – it was presumably a cenotaph. At Stockbridge Down there were cremation burials later than the main burial, dug into the ditch. This has only now got me scratching my head for a point of process I’d missed before. At Stockbridge the excavators were content that the ditch was dug to surround the burial – so female crouched burial, Beaker, awl, causewayed ditch were apparently contemporary.

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At Ravenstone the causewayed ditch surrounded a deep grave-pit with a coffin (generally an attribute of a male Beaker burial). So the female crouched burial, pot and awl were interlopers – and the depth of her grave suggested that it was indeed dug through a barrow mound (the actual mound had been subsequently ploughed flat). Therefore two very similar plans are perhaps not as similar as they seem. They’re certainly not identical, are they Professor? It’s one of the joys of being an archaeologist.

 

References:

Allen, D, The Excavation of a Beaker Burial Monument at Ravenstone, Buckinghamshire in 1978, Arch J Vol 138 for 1981.

Piggott, S, 1965, Ancient Europe

Stone, JFS & Hill, N G, 1940, A Round Barrow on Stockbridge Down, Hampshire, Antiquaries Journal, Vol XX

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone

 

 

 

 

Buried in time – Royal Blood bits, unions, rings and pins

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Bury Hill viewed from the west. The early fort touches the left hand side of the image, the later fort is dead centre. The ‘annexe’ occupies the harvested field to the right.

Bury Hill’s earthworks are quite prominent on the summit of a low rise at the confluence of the rivers Anna and Anton, near Andover. An Early Iron Age hillfort of 10 ha (24 acres) occupies the site but was superseded by a much stronger circular fort of half the size. The earlier enclosure, tested by geophysical survey and excavation, had no evidence of occupation, but it was a different picture in the later camp, which was densely packed with features.

What was striking about Barry Cunliffe’s work here in 1990 was the remarkable haul of horse harness and chariot fittings. The excavation produced six copper alloy terret rings, three strap unions, two small strap rings, a linchpin and an antler side piece capped with a copper alloy disc, as well as numerous iron horse bits and nave rings. Actual horse remains comprised 48% of the animal bones found, about ten times higher than at nearby Iron Age sites, suggesting highly specialised activity at Bury Hill.

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A selection of the Bury Hill harness and chariot fittings.

Calculations show an average height of eleven hands for a horse population aged between one and fourteen years. With less than 5% juvenile mortality it is likely that the animals were not kept for breeding and they may have been semi-feral, similar to New Forest ponies today. With peak mortality at age six or seven years it is also unlikely that they were exploited for meat. The probability is that the herd was carefully managed, with the emphasis on horses for riding and chariot use.

It seems clear that the community viewed the chariot as a symbol of prestige. It is likely that the vehicles were manufactured at the site and the necessary specialised metalwork made there by craftsmen working for the local elite. This was a group potentially more warrior-dominated than in previous Iron Age generations and ties in with Caesar’s descriptions from 54 BC, when the Late Iron Age forces ranged against him included up to 4,000 chariots!

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Chariots in the heat of Late Iron Age battle – from a painting by Mike Codd.

The Wessex Hillforts Survey has identified an oval enclosure of approximately 1.6ha (4 acres) just outside the later camp at Bury Hill, with its largest entrance facing towards the fort.  Is this where the elite warriors – the royal house guard or comitates – strutted their stuff, leaving the artisans to their carpentry workshops and smithies inside the defences?

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The archaeological evidence: horse bones, nave rings and linch pins from chariot axles, and a variety of horse bits, terret rings and strap unions from the harness; plus a cluster of sling stones. In the Royal Blood exhibit at Andover Museum until 10 July, 2016.

The allegiance of this Late Iron Age ‘arms factory’ is not clear.  The local Atrebates tribe were pro-Roman, but suffered incursions from the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni.  Whoever it was they followed, there’s no doubt that the later 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD were turbulent times, if the importance given to the production of weapons of war is anything to go by.

Royal Blood Postscript: In later times Polydore Vergil (16th century) and Sir Richard Colt Hoare imagined Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Canute occupying Bury Hill and Balksbury respectively, as they slogged it out for possession of England in the early 11th century, but there is no hard evidence for this episode from either site.

Reference:

Cunliffe, B & Poole, C. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape Vol 2, part 2. Bury Hill, Upper Clatford, Hants, 1990. English Heritage and Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph no. 49.

Series by:    Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone