Sunday, 17 February 2013

Time Team arrive!

Today's episode of Time Team follows on really nicely from my last post. The site they explored is only about 3km due north of the Didcot Great Western site I mentioned in my previous posting. However, the Time Team site is located down on the sands and gravels of the Thames terraces just to the south of Abingdon. In this case there are fantastic cropmarks of the site itself and its immediate hinterland. This image shows the site in its context- it's easy to pick out the RB cropmarks shown on TT as well as prehistoric and AS features to the south-east; the whole area is also braided with palaeochannels. I do like TT but it is not always very good on context- I *think* they were saying that the site was not near (m)any other villas, which is odd as it's just down the road from Barton Court Farm- also close to a decent town at Dorchester-on-Thames and only about 3 1/2 miles from the big complex at Marcham/Frilford. They also got a bit bogged down in the whole "what is a villa?" debate- making a good stab of exploring the complexities and then getting a bit caught up in a discussion about whether it was a high-status residence OR a centre for agrarian production. Louise Revell commented in passing that the villas were the homes of the members of the urban council (curia) - is that really what we think? I know it's likely that some owners were members of the curia, but surely not all. To be fair to her, the way this kind of tv interview gets edited, the original message doesn't always come out clearly. The other issue that came to mind watching this was a reminder of how incredibly dense the known RB landscapes (or indeed the landscapes of any early period) are in this part of the Middle/Upper Thames valley. I've always rather taken it for granted having grown up relatively locally- but the more time I spend away the more I realise how unusual the surviving resource is; probably more prehistoric/RB/AS sites in a 10km x 10km block centred on Sutton Courtenay than in all of County Durham... NB; just noticed that for some reason the North Star in Steventon was thanked in the credits - despite there being no obvious on-screen carousing!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Archaeology at Didcot

Some nice news reports (here and here) of the extensive range of archaeologiacl features found at Didcot by OA as part of development-control work. There is an interesting range of prehistoric and IA/RB material as well as a little AS evidence. The site seems to lie on the slightly elevated Gault and greensand that skirt the southern edge of the Vale, and is, I think, one of the first extensive open-plan interventions on that kind of landscape. As such, it compliments rather nicely the far more extensively recorded prehistoric, IA/RB, AS landscapes that survive (primarily as cropmarks) on the gravels of the Thames around Abingdon and Dorchester.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Disc brooch

Today's little treasure is a rather splendid 7th century garnet inlaid composite disc brooch found by a metal detectorist in West Hanney (PAS description here). This is one of three similar brooches from the Vale, including one found at Milton and one at Abingdon. The example from Milton (now in the V&A) is in much better nick and gives a better impression of what the West Hanney one would have looked like. These things are always flagged up as Kentish, but given the sheer quantity of garnet inlaid material being reported through the PAS, I'm not sure we can sustain the automatic assumption that anything containing garnet is from Kent.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Broad Gauge

Photo of a fence post at Steventon - this is one a number along this field boundary that re-use stretches of broad-gauge rail. The village was of some importance in the early years of the GWR. It was the main station for Oxford until 1844 when a line from Didcot was built. It was also briefly the location of the headquarters of the GWR (between July 1842 and January 1843). The GWR replaced their broad guage tracks in 1892 when over 170 miles of mainline were converted to narrow gauge in just over two days!