2007 Season

The pilot excavation undertaken in July 2007 as a joint project between the University of Oxford and Oxford Archaeology was a great success. Over a period of three weeks thirteen local volunteers joined the Oxford postgraduate students to be taught the techniques of professional archaeology by OA staff. The excavation focused on two sites, the Minchin Recreation Ground and a private garden in Haven Close. Both sites produced some very interesting results.

Historic mapping suggests that the recreation ground was used as farmland from at least the 16th century until it was donated to the village as a recreation ground in the 19th century by Mr Minchin. Aerial photographs taken in 2001 as observed on Google Maps show a series of intriguing cropmarks, and subsequent geophysical survey undertaken as part of the project, confirmed the likely survival of potentially significant archaeological remains.

The Parish Council and the cricket club kindly agreed that an excavation area could be opened over a series of cropmarks in the south east corner of the recreation ground. From Google Earth these appeared to show part of a curvilinear feature, characteristic of a Bronze Age ring ditch, (a ploughed-out burial mound), and a square enclosure with a large pit-like feature lying just inside its western boundary.

Excavation confirmed the presence of the ring ditch, which had previously been unknown. This would suggest that the Bronze Age cemetery associated with the Dorchester cursus and the Big Rings henge extended much further south than had been thought. Assuming that the ring ditch was symmetrical, it would have had an internal diameter of c 30m. Consequently, the projected location of the central burial was to the south of the excavation site (under the basketball court!).

No evidence for Iron Age activity was recovered, which probably reflects the focus of settlement in the late Bronze Age and Iron Age at Castle Hill and Dyke Hills. The vast majority of the artefactual material recovered from the site was from the 4th century AD, (late Roman period), and was deposited within the western, southern, and eastern boundary ditches of the rectangular enclosure which cut across the Bronze Age ditch, and also in the top of the pit-like feature, which turned out to be a Roman waterhole or well. The numerous and large unworn pot fragments, suggest that the finds have come from the immediate vicinity of the site, and may imply a high-status building near by. Significant quantities of copper and iron slag also suggested metalworking in the area.

Trench 2
Haven Close - our second trench in the back garden of Dave Wilkinson, a Senior Project Manager at OA, produced some beautiful samian pottery imported from the south of France in the early Roman period. The house and those around it stand on a large platform, just south of the Roman town. Was this a Roman feature? And was there a cemetery in this area, as the location might suggest? Within a few days we were cleaning up the skeleton of an infant, found near the base of the topsoil. The skeleton has now been radiocarbon dated to somewhere between AD 240 and AD 390, but the lack of a clear stratigraphic context meant we had to treat it as suspicious at the time. The local Scene of Crime Officer from Thames Valley Police was both helpful and pragmatic, allowing OA human bone specialist Louise Loe to do the excavating and recording. The skeleton and related samples then stayed sealed in an evidence bag until the C14 date had been obtained. This must have been a shallow burial, pushed in just below what was then the turf-line, and perhaps not within a formal cemetery. No other burials were found.

More Roman features were found once the topsoil had been cleared down to the top of an orange-brown subsoil. A deep ditch, more than a metre wide, crossed the trench running roughly north to south. And then there was Roman pottery - bucket-loads of it. We have yet to analyse this in detail, but it is already clear that unlike the Recreation Ground site, where the pottery was largely late Roman, we have mainly first century pottery, some of it dating to not long after the invasion. A highlight was a stamped Samian ware base, reading OFNIGR. The most likely meaning of this is OFFICINA NIGRI, meaning the pot came from the work shop of the potter, Niger, in La Graufesenque, in southern Gaul (France). He operated from AD 50 to AD 80. By this time we had also started to find prehistoric worked flints in the top of subsoil. These ranged from Mesolithic microliths to rough blades, flakes and cores from the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The ditch might have defined the back of a cemetery which lay further west, towards the known line of a Roman road. We have heard on the local grapevine how human bones were found during building in the 1950s. For the earlier evidence, understanding the flints is easier now that we believe the subsoil, which overlies river sands and gravel, was at one time a topsoil covered by either grassland or woodland. It seems to have stayed that way during the Late Iron Age period when nearby Dyke Hills was occupied, until the establishment of Roman Dorchester. And what about the raised platform that had first made us curious? There was no evidence that this was Roman - it seems more likely that it was naturally a slightly higher area than the surrounding river floodplain. As such it would make a favoured place for prehistoric hunters and fishers - hence the flints.

The project was delighted to welcome two visits from Dorchester Primary School, and 60 visiting undergraduates who were excavating at Frilford during the same period. We also had daily visitors whom were either walking their dogs, or taking their children to the play area, which made for a very sociable atmosphere. Thankfully, our presence did not impact too greatly upon the Cricket Club, to whom we are very grateful for the use of the pavilion.

Evening Lectures
Over the three weeks of the dig we gave a series of six evening lectures on the archaeological history of Dorchester from the Neolithic to the medieval period. These were very well attended, and gave people the opportunity to ask as many questions as they wished.



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