Former RAF Lyneham gives up its ancient secrets
Earlier this year archaeologists discovered an extensive Roman settlement in the northern part of the airfield of the former RAF base. This all happened because a few months earlier, planning permission had been granted for the development of this area into a solar farm. Following an archaeological evaluation in which 60 machines dug trenches in January where about the third of them had evidence of Roman features, full scale excavation was undertaken in February and March.
Two large areas, totalling just over a hectare, were opened up for excavation and because of the tight timescale for the building of the solar farm, two teams were employed British Solar Renewables to excavate: Wessex Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology. Between them the teams excavated hundreds of features indicating extensive occupation through the Roman period and a hint at earlier Iron Age occupation too.
The most exciting features were two round house dwellings. They were both around 12 metres in diameter and had well preserved internal features. The earlier one was Late Iron Age and was superseded and partially overlapped by a slightly larger Roman one. This hints at continuous occupation on this site for a few hundred years.
The features included lots of pits, ditches and industrial features such as corn dryers and even a well. There were a dozen human burials scattered around the site in shallow grave cuts. The most interesting was a young lady buried with the cremated bone of a new born in a small pot near to her.
In terms of finds, there was plenty of pottery, animal bone and personal items such as bone pins. The finds included an almost intact quern stone found in a rubbish pit.
Luckily the Roman settlement was well preserved and been little disturbed by the military buildings and activities over the last 70 years. Curiously there had been no previous hints or evidence of such a settlement in the area. This maybe because of its former use as a military base precluded the usual activities that often lead to archaeological discoveries such as aerial photography and metal detecting.
The Archaeology Service is looking forward to seeing the report and publication for the excavations in the next few months.
Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger, County Archaeologist