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Shooting Cupid


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.

cupid 2

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.

Shooting Cupid: the Advertiser photographer homes in on Ashley Duke and his Tangley find.

Shooting Cupid: the Advertiser photographer homes in on Ashley Duke and his Tangley find.

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.


Further reading:

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.




Buried in time (and a housing estate) – Balksbury plateau enclosure

When the much-needed Andover bypass swept around the southern reaches of the town in the late 1960s it sliced through the southwest corner of the 18 ha (45 acre) plateau enclosure of Balksbury.  From that moment on, the earthwork’s days  were numbered.  Housing developments eventually arrived and now carpet nearly all of the interior, but at least the disappearance of the archaeology was well-documented, and six episodes of excavation are on record.

General view of the 1973 excavtions

General view of the 1973 excavtions

In 1939 the southern side of the defences was examined by Jacquetta Hawkes, while husband Christopher was busy excavating at nearby Bury Hill.  Twenty years later the northeast corner of the enclosure was looked at during house-building.  More substantial opportunities came in 1967 with the arrival of the bypass and again in 1973, when the same excavator, Geoff Wainwright, undertook one of his celebrated ‘big digs’, uncovering 10 ha of the interior.  The Central Excavation Unit investigated a further 2 ha in 1981.  Finally, between December 1995 and April 1997, another 5.5 ha of the interior was examined, additional work took place outside the enclosure, and a section of bank and ditch was looked at in detail.

Excavations in 1997

Excavations in 1997 – examining the ‘defences’

Viewed as a whole, the site produced evidence from Neolithic to Late-Roman date, although the earliest activity is represented only by stray finds, including a Beaker burial of an adolescent female.

Beaker burial

The BAlksbury Beaker burial

The Balksbury Beaker burial

Around the 8th-9th centuries BC (Late Bronze Age) large-scale clearance of woodland preceded the construction of the enclosure.  A single entrance was found to the southeast as well as three phases of bank and ditch, some involving timber strengthening.  If there was any occupation at this period, it apparently took the form of a few four and five-post structures, scattered around the periphery.  In the Early Iron Age the evidence is more substantial, with three round houses and 27 storage pits identified.  Pits also dominated in the Middle Iron Age, with 90 attributable to this phase, but there were no recognisable structures.


Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

In the Late Iron Age and Early Roman periods a number of pits and gullies were dug but the type of activity they represent is elusive.  It does, however, appear to merge into the later Roman occupation which involved a substantial building with ovens (and painted wall plaster), a corn-drier, small enclosures, pits and burials.  Finds included both local and imported pottery, worked bone and stone, coins and jewellery, including 11 brooches, four bracelets, five rings and a buckle plate.  Part of a scabbard for a La Tene 1 type dagger, a rare find from a settlement site, is of Middle Iron Age date.

The 'T'-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

The ‘T’-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

In the mid-1990s, the final phase of excavation concentrated on the nature and economy of the enclosure, rather than its wider landscape setting.  The enclosure, at 18 ha, was too big to be defended effectively and its description as a ‘hillfort’ is wrong.  It probably marked out an important place in the landscape, a focal point for communal activities, which may have included feasting, exchange of goods, and the means to build social relationships.  Later activity took place in the centre of the site and the impression is of a succession of small farming settlements taking advantage of an existing, but redundant, enclosure.

Further Reading:

A1978.12  Archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Balksbury Camp, Andover, Excavations 1973 & 1981, Wainwright & Davies (1995), English Heritage Archaeological Report 4.

Excavations at Balksbury Camp, Andover 1995-97, Ellis & Rawlings (2001), Hants Studies Vol 56.

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

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) who led the 1967 and 1973 digs.

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) and some of the diggers in 1973.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

Buried in time – Portway East Saxon cemetery, Andover

Portway: a general view at an early stage in the excavations

Portway: a general view at an early stage in the excavations

The 6th century Saxon cemetery discovered at Portway East (an industrial estate) lies to the west of Andover.  The site overlooks the valley of the River Anton and is close to Bronze Age burial mounds and the presumed routes of the prehistoric Harrow Way and Portway Roman Road.  The cemetery was excavated by the Andover Archaeological Society in 1973-5 and found to occupy an area of at least 60 x 45m.  Sixty-nine inhumation burials and 57 deposits of cremated bone were recovered.

Portway skeleton '2A' being revealed.

Portway skeleton ‘2A’ being revealed.

Portway - 'Cremation 58'

Portway – ‘Cremation 58’

The condition of many of the skeletons was poor, mostly because of plough damage, but the surviving evidence shows that infections were less common here than in other early Saxon cemeteries.  Additionally, there was an absence of conditions such as malignant tumours, common in many early populations.  None of the bones had been gnawed by predators, so the corpses were probably deeply buried originally and the graves looked after.  Of the individual burials identifiable by sex, females outnumbered males and 20 out of the 32 recognisable female burials contained grave goods in the form of a necklace or bracelet.

The necklace from Grave 44 (the bracelet is from Grave 50).

The necklace from Grave 44 (the bracelet is from Grave 50).

One such occurrence was Grave 44 which contained a juvenile estimated, from the development of her teeth, to have been 12 to 14 years old. She was identified as female because of the objects in the grave. These included a fine necklace made of a string of beads of amber and coloured glass. Like most of the inhumations on the site the body had been laid on its back with legs extended. The grave was rectangular with well-cut sides and the plan produced by the archaeologists gives a clear indication of the interior layout. The necklace stretched from either side of the neck across the chest, with amber and glass beads generally alternating. The distinctive decorations on the glass beads indicate a date sometime after AD 550 and, in the absence of 7th century objects from the site, a date in the second half of the 6th century seems appropriate.  The grave was one of a pair and the other contained the relatively well-preserved skeleton of a female of 25 to 35 years of age.

The quality of the necklace from Grave 44 suggests that the young girl would have been of high social status. Other items include a set of bronze toilet implements and a ‘girdle group’. The toilet implements included an ear scoop and were held on a bronze ring.  A strand of thread (possibly flax) wound around the ring, and this may have served to suspend the implements from her neck. The ‘girdle group’ was an elaborate set of items of uncertain function. This was found at waist level and included a rectangular iron loop probably used to suspend the items.

Further reading: Excavations at Portway, Andover 1973-75, Cook & Dacre (1985) OUCA Monograph 4.

Some of the Portway finds are on show at Andover Museum


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

Buried in time – the Early Bronze Age

Walworth Barrows, Andover

Two Bronze Age ‘ring ditches’ or ploughed-out barrows – 2000 – 1000 BC

Aerial view before excavation

Aerial view before excavation

 Two round barrows at Walworth, Andover, were excavated in 1987 in advance of factory building. Both mounds had been flattened by ploughing and only the ditches remained. The barrows were so close that they formed an ‘8’ shape. They were built during the Early Bronze Age and continued to be used until late in the period, by which time the ditches were largely silted up.

Aerial view during excavation

Aerial view during excavation

The burials were concentrated in one of the barrows. A child aged 3-4 years was found in the area of the mound and a series of pits inside the line of the ditch contained the cremated remains of three individuals: an adult, possibly female, a child aged 6-7 years and a child of uncertain age.

walworth pix_0016   walworth pix_0030

Three more burials were made in the ditch after it had partially filled with soil. They were of an adult female in middle age, a young male aged 14-15 years and a child aged 3-4 years. Also deliberately buried in the ditch near to the human graves was an adult cow.  Both barrows yielded finds of Bronze Age pottery and worked flint flakes. One of the ditches contained fragments of a Middle Bronze Age spearhead.

The adult female of middle age, buried in a grave dug through the ditch fill into the chalk bedrock below was laid in a crouched position on her left side with her legs drawn up under her chin. Her right arm was laid across her chest and her left arm beside her head. There were no finds to indicate fastenings for clothing or a shroud, nor were there any beads or other jewellery. No pottery, bone or flint accompanied the body, although it is possible that perishable items were present and have left no trace. There is no indication of the cause of death. From the length of the long bones it is possible to estimate the woman’s height as 5’ 5”. Her arm bones are notably delicate.

She suffered from severe toothache, losing four of her molars, two shortly before she died. Two of the teeth in her upper jaw had been worn down to the roots and there were two abscesses, one on each side of her face. The second and third ribs on her right side were fused together and this may have been a congenital condition, causing stiffness on that side of her body. The skeleton of the young child buried in the ditch nearby displayed similar features, suggesting that they were related.

Walworth Barrows A1987.3

Excavations in progress

Excavations in progress

The full report on the excavations will appear in Hampshire Studies Vol 70 in 2015.

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

Buried in time – the Neolithic

Nutbane Longbarrow

A Neolithic longbarrow near Andover, built and used about 3,500 BC

The Neolithic, or New Stone Age, roughly 4,000 BC to 2,000 BC, is marked by the  arrival of the first farmers and also the first monuments to survive in our landscape. The causewayed enclosure, linear ‘cursus’ and circular henge are complemented by the chambered tomb or longbarrow.

Faith de Mallet Morgan on site at Nutbane

Excavations in progress

Nutbane longbarrow, Penton Grafton, first identified in 1955, was excavated in 1957 by Faith de Mallet Morgan for the Andover History Group. Ploughing had reduced its height to only 0.75m but the tapering mound could be measured at 51m in length. Two ditches flanked the mound. At the east end a mortuary structure contained four crouched burials and to the east of this was a forecourt enclosure. This area underwent several alterations before the mound was built and extended over it.

All four burials, revealed by excavation

All four burials, revealed by excavation

The first timber structure contained three burials, placed on a layer of light brushwood and covered with soil. Later, a larger structure was erected and a fenced enclosure added. A fourth burial was then inserted and a chalk cairn built over all the burials. Following this the mortuary enclosure was blocked by a post and log fence, digging of the ditches began and the enclosure was filled with soil. The primary mound was constructed around the mortuary enclosure and round, but not over, the forecourt structure, which was then burnt.

All of the bodies were buried in a crouched position, a common practice in the Neolithic. The later burial was male, about 5’5” tall, aged about 30 – 40 years. Two of the earlier burials were also adult males, one 5’9”, aged 30 – 40 years, the other 5’6” aged 40 – 50 years. The fourth skeleton was that of a child, aged 12 -13 years. No grave goods of pottery or stone were found, although it is possible that perishable items could have accompanied the burials. There was no evidence for fastenings for clothing or a shroud and no personal items such as beads.

It’s clear that only a few people in the social group were given the sort of burial found at Nutbane, and the monument can also be seen as a ‘tribal marker’.

Artist's impression of Nutbane being built

Artist’s impression of Nutbane being built

About 40 Neolithic long barrows are known in Hampshire, but very few have been excavated.

Some of the finds from Nutbane are displayed at the Andover Museum. A1981.13

The report is published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society for 1959.

A page from the dig diary

A page from the dig diary


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