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Category Archives: Romano-British
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 By this time the initial recognition of the type-site, i.e. the ‘banjo’ (O==) had been replaced by the realisation that they often formed part of a larger complex or ‘syndrome’.
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.
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.
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!
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
An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.
Grateley South, 1910, 1916, 1998, 1999
‘Grateley South’ is one kilometre south east of the hillfort of Quarley Hill, and around six kilometres north west of Danebury Hillfort.
In 1895 Dr. J.P. Williams-Freeman, a Weyhill country doctor trained as a military surveyor, became a member of the Hampshire Field Club; he was a fine amateur field archaeologist and in the sixth volume of the society’s proceedings he published a short note concerning a supposed Roman villa at Grateley. Evidence, in the form of an 8 ft. by 4 ft. tessellated pavement, had been observed during the removal of the flint wall foundations to provide material for road mending. The foundations were recorded by Williams-Freeman, who used them as the basis of a scale plan of part of the villa. This discovery brought the total number of Romano-British buildings known within a six-mile radius of Andover up to ten, a concentration well covered in the Victoria County History, and on Williams-Freeman’s own map, which was to follow soon after.
During the summer of 1915 a further piece of pavement was discovered at the site. According to Williams-Freeman’s subsequent report, this was ‘carefully exposed under the direction of Mr. E. Rawlence, agent to the Marquis of Winchester, the present owner’. (Rawlence was a surveyor from Salisbury who, six years later, excavated the building at Houghton Down.) The small excavation at Grateley revealed a substantially complete mosaic floor in a square room at the centre of Williams-Freeman’s plan. A fine painting of the floor was made by Heywood Sumner and reproduced as a frontispiece of the Field Club’s journal. No hypocaust was revealed, although Williams-Freeman had heard that a ‘cellar’ (possibly a hypocaust) had been found a few years earlier.
Following Rawlence’s excavation the floor was carefully covered over. Sixty years later high-quality aerial photographs revealed that the building was part of a villa complex which had developed from an earlier Iron Age settlement with ditched enclosures. This made the site an attractive prospect for study as part of the Danebury Environs Roman Programme, led by Professor Barry Cunliffe. Its size and complexity meant that only a sample excavation was possible during two seasons in 1998 and 1999; the work focusing on the villa buildings.
The work revealed that there were two Roman phases, the earlier one (c. AD 50-300) including evidence of timber structures in the form of post alignments, a gravelled road, a well and a large corn-drying oven. The later phase (c.AD 300-400) comprised at least four masonry buildings. One of these was the villa house, previously reported by Williams-Freeman. Corridors ran along the back and front of this ‘strip house’. Cunliffe’s excavation included a trial trench across the building, but no surviving mosaics were found.
Four large corn-drying ovens were unearthed, however, and found to be in an exceptional state of preservation. They dated from the third and fourth centuries and the three earliest were all double ovens. They were similar in plan, with two ovens set side-by-side and served from a single stoking chamber. The evidence suggested that the right-hand chamber had been more intensively fired than the left. Analysis of the crop remains from the cooler flues produced remains of sprouted wheat, showing that they were used for parching malted grain. The right-hand chamber, run at a higher temperature, could have been used to dry the crop prior to storage. The later, single oven had continued in use until destroyed by fire, preserving its last load beneath the collapsed burnt roof of the building. The load included mainly spelt wheat, with other grains as contaminants.
A single burial, of a male aged 35-40 year, was found at the site, dumped into a pit too small to contain a prone body. The casual nature of the deposit differs from the usual inhumation practices of the time and it was suggested that the unfortunate individual had been held responsible for starting the calamitous fire, and made to suffer in consequence!
The environmental evidence from the corn-drying ovens provided significant information about the agrarian economy, an objective very different from those of the excavators of the Edwardian era, who originally uncovered the mosaic.
The Victoria County History of Hampshire , Vol 1 (1900) p 265ff.
A1998.45, A1999.40 Archives deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust
Cunliffe, B. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme, Volume 1, Introduction.
Cunliffe, B. and Poole, C. 2008. Grateley South, Grateley, Hants 1998 and 1999, The Danebury Environs Roman Programme.
Series by Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
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.
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.
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
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
The Hampshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is a fantastic tool. Under its alternative title of the Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record (AHBR) it can be accessed and interrogated on-line in all manner of ways. If you want to know whether your village, town or parish hides items of archaeological or historical interest it’s the place to start, and it can lead you on a trail towards obscure reports (we call them ‘grey literature’) as well as published evidence.
Using the database it’s easy to get hooked on searching for your favourite type of site – Roman villas, for instance (104 results) – and then while away an evening, sifting through the various leads, which might head you towards some splendid find displayed in a museum, or alternatively into a ditch terminal. As more and more illustrative material becomes digitally available and linked-in, the historic environment will be more and more at our fingertips and our appreciation of what has gone before will be much enhanced.
One large step along this route has been taken by the staff of the Hampshire County Council Historic Environment Section, with the release of the Atlas of Hampshire’s Archaeology. Using the 50,000 records at their disposal, David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Alan Whitney (Historic Data Manager) have produced a set of forty maps which span the periods from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) which began around 10,000 years ago, to the end of the Roman occupation (about 1600 years ago). The excellent base maps employ either topography (15 altitude bands) or landscape type (derived from a palette of 25 pastel shades) and this, together with the river systems, allows the current character of the country to be easily read.
When it comes to putting things on the map, there are at least forty different symbols employed, but these range from just three for our Middle Stone Age ancestors, to eleven on one of the Roman maps. This inevitably leads to a bit of congestion, especially when the symbol for a single find is essentially larger than an industrial estate, but care has been taken to make everything fit sympathetically.
A genuine sense of distribution can be obtained for all periods – and an appreciation of the physical relationship of communities with soil types and river systems. It highlights the enigma of the Neolithic in Hampshire – long barrows, yes, but why on earth no causewayed enclosures, cursus monuments or henges? It also shows how, by the following Bronze Age – to judge from the spread of round barrows – there were no ‘no go’ areas. In the Iron Age – a period blessed with 14 maps – grain and wool processing are among particular activities that can be teased out and ‘banjo enclosures’ also have their part to play; on the Roman maps, the layout of the road system brings communications well and truly to the fore.
Roman roads are an interesting subject, and have a number of people committed to their study. The current maps don’t include the routes through the New Forest surveyed by Arthur Clarke (2003), the last Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, which would enhance the western approaches. Other features that don’t fare well (in the Bronze Age) are the so-called ‘ranch boundaries’, sometimes termed ‘Wessex linears’, which are represented by a static symbol when their role, interpreted by some as the first tangible manifestation of territories (Cunliffe, 1993), would be better shown by a true representation.
The maps are accompanied by short essays summarising the character of each period, particularly with regard to the landscape. Indeed, the word ‘landscape’ wins out in any word count and is perhaps a little repetitive, especially when it is contrasting the ‘farmed’ with the ‘wild’. True, the landscape is the canvas holding the scene together, but with such vivid and varied pictures being painted by the human activity, it could perhaps be allowed to slip into the background a little. Alternatively, simpler maps showing the advance of the ‘farmed’ at the expense of the ‘wild’ would make the point – but would take a lot more preparation!
The maps throw up a number of issues not explored in the text, issues that tend to dog distribution maps. The concentration of finds in certain areas will be the result of individual fieldwork (George Willis et al around Basingstoke, for example, or Malcolm Lyne (2012) in Binsted and environs) and the growth of certain towns (Basingstoke, Andover etc) will have provided many more opportunities for discovery than other locations. Aerial cover will also be uneven, although in time the increasing use of LIDAR will bring greater equality. As a result there will inevitably be some bias on display, but the maps do a brilliant job in presenting the current state of knowledge and providing food for thought.
And in so doing, they are the perfect spur and complement to further research. The national ‘Atlas of Hillforts’ , for example, is nearing completion and it will be interesting to see how much variety is proposed in the survey for the forty or so ‘hillforts’ on the Hampshire map. Also, the Roman layout is forever being reconsidered – including roads that deviate for unknown reasons – whither Vindomis? etc ; and the monumental ‘desert’ that is the Neolithic remains as intriguing as ever.
So do make use of the maps – and having taken in the broad sweep of thousands of years of human history, consult the Historic Environment Record, and dig a little deeper.
Dave Allen, Curator of Hampshire Archaeology, Hampshire Cultural Trust
Clarke, A (2003) The Roman road on the eastern fringe of the New Forest, Hampshire Studies, Vol 58, 33-58
Cunliffe, B W (1993), Wessex to A D 1000. p129 ff
Lyne, M (2012), Archaeological Research in Binsted, Kingsley and Alice Holt Forest, BAR British Series 574
On the shortest day of the year it seems appropriate to think of sources of light. We have the ability to turn night into day but it wasn’t so for our early ancestors. For the Romans, artificial light came in the form of oil-lamps or candles, or occasionally lanterns. In Britain oil-lamps were rare, because of the expense of shipping in olive oil from Gaul, Spain or Africa. It’s therefore good to be able to report that a complete example, found at the Dunkirt Barn Roman villa site, had a narrow escape. Peter Stone takes up the story.
Some years ago I was working as a volunteer on Barry Cunliffe’s excavation at Dunkirt Barn. Along with two or three others I found myself assigned to an area close to the site of the winged corridor villa, where we were instructed to trowel off what appeared to be infill from the 19th century excavations. Wearying of this task my near neighbour decided to take a mattock into his hands and vigorously attack his area. At about the third or fourth stroke an object suddenly flew into the air and landed several metres away. On investigation it proved to be a complete Roman lamp. The down-stroke of the mattock must have been just a few centimetres from completely destroying it but it survived intact and is one of the best finds from the site.
The lamp would have been made in the second century AD or later, and is a copy of a ‘factory lamp’ (firmalampe), so called because the originals were mass-produced, bearing a stamp identifying a particular manufacturer. This lamp has no such mark on its base and although many were made in Gaul and the German provinces, some were made in Britain, notably the Verulamium area. Such lamps would have been fuelled by olive oil imported from the Mediterranean.
Not every excavated find has such a fortuitous life [confesses Peter]. I went on to volunteer for Dave Allen at Basing House and was delighted to find a complete clay tobacco pipe. A few years later, however, I was working in the Chilcomb stores when, during a sorting task, the same pipe came to light. Overwhelmed at being reunited with it I raised my hand to take it from a fellow worker only to knock it from her hand with the result that it is no longer a complete pipe. Sic transit gloria mundi.
(We stuck it back together – Dave).
Further reading: Cunliffe & Poole (2008) The Danebury Environs Roman Programme, Vol 2, Part 7, Dunkirt Barn.
A2005.50, archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone
‘One of the few drawbacks of air-photography’ state Crawford & Keiller in Wessex from the Air (1928) ‘is its failure to register colours’. They were moved to say this because the enclosure at Meon Hill, near Stockbridge, had revealed itself as a ‘semicircle of brilliant scarlet [poppies] sharply outlined against the bright yellow of a field of oats’.
The plate that accompanies the entry in their book (above) emphasises the point (spot the enclosure!) but the reason they were so pleased with what they saw from above, was that they were actively searching for the lost ‘eorthbyrig’, literally ‘earth-bury’ or camp, mentioned in the bounds of Longstock in AD 982. They counted the discovery of the Meon Hill site, on 12 July, 1924, ‘as one of the most successful results of the season’s work’.
Eight years later the site was excavated, on behalf of the Hampshire Field Club, by Dorothy Liddell. She dug three ‘cuttings’ or trenches. Trench I sectioned the ‘V – shaped’ ditch on the northeast side of the ring, Trench II tackled the northwest sector and Trench III the southern side. All three cuttings yielded flint flakes, implements and ‘pot-boilers’: plus pottery and metal finds of Iron Age and Romano-British date. The excavators gave up counting the pot-boilers – fire-crazed lumps of flint – as there were so many!
Trench II revealed an earlier ditch, cut through by the ring, but the discoveries that aroused greatest interest were the result of later activity in this area. Ten skeletons were found, their graves dug into the soft soil of the enclosure ditch. Six of the males, aged between 20 and 50, had been decapitated. Burial orientation and a few associated small finds suggested a late 10th century date, and the site bears comparison with the ‘execution cemetery’ found on Stockbridge Down, just across the valley. Interestingly, one of the three complete skeletons was identified as female, while the final individual was missing both skull and upper body and may have been disturbed by animal burrowing.
A second season in 1933 resulted in the discovery of 24 pits and 29 postholes with ‘numerous other hollows and depressions’ cut into the chalk varying in depth from 1 to 7 feet (0.3 to 2.2m). The conclusion at the time was that a group of underground Iron Age dwellings had been found, whereas today we would be happy to call them storage pits. Some of the postholes no doubt belonged to surface-level Iron Age roundhouses.
Meon Hill lies on Houghton Down, about ½ mile west of Stockbridge. The location boasts magnificent views along the Test Valley, in sight of Woolbury, Danebury and Quarley. In former times the enclosure was touched by the Stockbridge-Salisbury road, which now veers away from it, and tradition has it that a drovers’ inn once stood within. Today the site is all in cultivation.
Archive (not the skeletons) held by Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Crawford OGS & Keiller A (1928) Wessex from the Air, p107
Liddell, D (1934) Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 12, 126-162
Liddell, D (1937) Report on the Hants Field Club’s Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 13, 7-54
Photographic illustrations from the excavation reports.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, and Peter Stone
This late Roman gold finger-ring was found at Tangley, north of Andover, two years ago, by Ashley Duke. It qualified as ‘treasure’ under the definition of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme oversaw its recording, valuation and publication (2014 T12).
It was acquired by the Hampshire Cultural Trust and the opportunity to display it coincided with the publication of the ring, firstly in an academic article in the journal Britannia, and secondly in a wide range of media outlets, as the beautifully cut intaglio, depicting a rather languid and impious looking Cupid, caught the imagination.
The nicolo intaglio (onyx with a blue surface and a dark heart) shows a winged, naked Cupid, leaning on a short spiral column. He holds aloft a flaming torch, which he will later use to burn Psyche in her guise as a butterfly.
Parallels for the ring are noted in the National Museum in Vienna, and closer to home, in one of the rings in the Silchester hoard, featured here just a few weeks ago.
The Trust invited Ashley Duke to be present at the ‘unveiling’ of his find at Andover Museum, and the Andover Advertiser was there to record the scene.
It has to be said that the valuation of such finds is not an easy task, is in the hands of an independent committee (museums are not directly involved) and is open to appeal. At the end of the day the addition of the Tangley ring to the Andover displays will ensure that it will be viewed and enjoyed by many.
Sally Worrell and John Pearce (2015). II. Finds Reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Britannia, 46, pp 355-381
Photos: Katie Hinds, Portable Antiquities Scheme; Dave Allen
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.