The Gravels Give Up Their Secrets!

on Friday, 15 March 2013. Posted in Archaeology

Over the last thirty years gravel has been commercially extracted from the North East of Wiltshire in the Upper Thames Valley, close to the border with Gloucestershire. This has always been a landscape rich with natural resources and has been exploited by human communities since time began. The gravel extraction has clearly changed the appearance of the landscape with the subsequent creation of lakes, many of which now make up the Cotswold Water Park.

The scale of this gravel extraction and the planning requirement for the developer to fund archaeological excavation has led to an unprecedented opportunity for archaeologists to investigate and record vast area of landscape settled and used by past communities. In the last 10 years three projects in particular have had amazing findings and over 100 hectares of land has been archaeologically investigated.

In 2007-8 a large scale excavation was undertaken close to the Cotswold Community School near Ashton Keynes. This work was fully published by Oxford Archaeology in 2010*. The results show a landscape exploited interval from the earliest time, as the below abstract from the publication states:

“The site at Cotswold Community in the western reaches of the Upper Thames Valley has been a focus of human activity since Neolithic times. Successive Bronze Age, Iron Age & Roman settlements developed within an increasingly open grassland landscape, which was heavily exploited for the growing of crops and grazing of animals. The spiritual lives of the inhabitants were glimpsed through a series of structured pit deposits and ritual monuments, including a potential Neolithic timber circle and Bronze Age round barrows. One of the most striking landscape features was a late Bronze Age / early Iron Age pit alignments that extended over 500m, possibly marking one of the earliest attempts at marking territory on a large scale. It was still a visible feature for some time as it partly dictated the position of the boundaries of the Roman farmstead, which occupied the site from 1st to 4th centuries AD. The farm lay in the shadow of Roman Cirencester less than 5km to the north and may even have been involved in the recycling of refuse from this important urban centre. Following abandonment of the Roman farmstead there was no further occupation of the site, although a small number of Saxon agricultural structures indicate continuing use of the land, which may now have been part of a locally-centered Saxon estate.”

At the Eysey Manor Quarry site near Latton similarly exciting and diverse finds have been made, with the excavation of a medieval settlement as well as a host of other features dating from Bronze Age to Post-Roman. One of the similarities between the finds here and at the nearby Roundhouse Farm Quarry near Marston Maisey is the abundance of evidence for Iron Age settlement, which is rare elsewhere in the County. Dozens of hut circles representing the remains of dwellings have been found, together with associated enclosures and pits. Most of this settlement evidence seems to belong to the Middle Iron Age (500-400 BC). The features found together with the evidence of pottery and animal bone indicates a relatively well settled landscape where the communities were exploiting the rich resources on the banks of what is now known as the River Thames.

The archaeological work at these two sites is still ongoing. The publication of the results of the excavations at Eysey and Roundhouse Farm in the next 2-3 years is eagerly awaited and will be just as exciting and spectacular as the Cotswold Community findings.

Some of the archaeological finds and discoveries made in this area are on display at the Cotswold Water Park Gateway Centre near South Cerney, well worth a visit.

*(Smith, Alex and Powell, Kelly and Booth, Paul (2010) Evolution of a Farming Community in the Upper Thames Valley Excavation of a Prehistoric, Roman and Post-Roman Landscape at Cotswold Community, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire .Oxford Archaeology South.).

Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger
County Archaeologist

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