Historic archaeology

Roman AD 43 to 410

The main early Roman settlement at GWP appears to have followed directly on from the late Iron Age enclosed settlement at the new primary school site at Area A4 north of Wantage Road. This settlement comprised various phases of stock and settlement enclosure. In terms of residences one of the later roundhouses within the enclosed area appears to have been of Roman date and shows that the Iron Age style of building was retained in some rural settlements well after the Roman conquest. 

During the middle Roman period (2nd-early 3rd century) activity decreased and may have been limited to agricultural use of the site.     

However, by the later Roman period (3rd to 4th century AD) the farmstead was modified with the construction of a later Roman walled ‘villa’ type building, aligned north-east/south-west, whose foundation were found in the northern area of Area A4. The building remains included a small hypocaust chamber pit (underfloor heating system) within its south-west end. Remains of at least two tile pillars about a metre apart had partially survived at the base of the pit and would have originally supported a clay tile or stone floor above. The pit had been backfilled with building materials/rubble, including keyed flue tile (used to draw hot air up through the walls of the room above). It also included roof tile and painted wall plaster, indicating a degree a luxury for the room. The remains of this building were not fully exposed and have been retained intact beneath the southern edge of Boundary Park. The later Roman evidence also included several stone lined wells and a number of stone built ‘corn-dying oven’ features (possibility used for the malting process).

Notably an important second century hoard of Roman gold coins had been previously discovered by a metal-detectorist previously in the same field to the east of the Roman building – although the precise location and archaeological context of the find is not known. A metal-detecting survey following topsoil stripping has amassed 330 mainly late Roman (3rd-4th century) coins from the settlement area itself. The large numbers of late coin issues in relation to early examples is quite normal for coin profiles at Roman sites. Intriguingly, the hoard dates from a period when activity appears to have been at its lowest level, at least within the excavated area.

The only Roman feature located upon the higher ground within the GWP north-east area was the continuation of the major trackway leading down-slope (to the north rather than north-west) from the hillcrest settlement adjacent to Stephen Freeman School. Small-scale Roman occupation of this zone is emphasised by three Roman inhumations excavated on the east side of the track. Burials along route-ways and/or field-boundaries are a common feature of Roman rural sites. Two of these contained late Roman coins and complete pottery vessels. One individual was decapitated (almost certainly post-mortem) with the head placed next to the legs. Such burial practices are not uncommon in the Roman period. One theory for this practise based on Roman writings is that removal of the head made it difficult for the spirit to haunt the living. Another theory is that such burials were of outlaws or outcasts but this is unlikely as they are often afforded grave goods and other trappings of a careful internment.

The boundaries of Roman period rectangular fields were encountered over much of the GWP site, with a particularly intensive field-system encountered on the lower ground of the north-west area of GWP.  The 2015 investigations south of Wantage Road also identified a set of late Roman probable stock compounds either side of a trackway within an attenuation area to the west of Down Farm. The track was part of a wider co-axial (grid form) system of tracks and fields beyond these compounds. A further large attenuation pond for the development at the extreme southern end of the GWP site encountered a Roman period ditched compound containing cereal processing facilities, including a three more corn-drying oven type structures. The related farmstead occupation area was not found but is likely to lie immediately to the west, beyond the GWP boundary, based on analogy with the Area A4 settlement layout north of Wanatge Road.     

Saxon AD 410 to 1066

An early Saxon cemetery was found previously just to the north of GWP at the Didcot Power Station and indicates early Saxon occupation of the Didcot area soon after the collapse of Roman Britain after AD 410. A section of offline sewer trench for the GWP project to the north-west of Zulu Farm also identified evidence for early Saxon occupation in 2012. A classic ‘sunken floored building’ of Germanic style was identified and excavated within an expanded trench. The rectangular pit for the sunken floor included the usual post-holes at either end to support a simple roof but also had another mid-way along one of the long sides. The backfill contained sufficient domestic debris to confirm occupation and included 5th to 6th century stamped pottery in addition to a late Roman coin.

Medieval AD 1066 to mid-C16th

In the medieval period the site was open fields with furrows of the ancient furlongs visible as archaeological features in many areas. The furrows and headlands of the medieval open field system often respected the alignments of the Iron Age and Roman landscape.

The ridge and furrow pattern lasted in use until the late post-medieval enclosure acts. The most significant post-medieval finds to date have been foundations of a barn and a horse burial on the Spine road just south of A12. Unfortunately the horse had a broken leg and had been put down by the farmer using a hammer and chisel through the skull.

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