Bromham-Rowdefield Project 2014 - 2018
By Phil Andrews and Jan Dando
Photographs of five seasons of excavation from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 please follow the highlighted links.
2014 saw the beginning of what is hoped to be a five year fieldwork project for the WAFG, led by the site’s excavation director, Phil Andrews of Wessex Archaeology, and supported during its first year by the Council for British Archaeology’s Mick Aston Fund.
Maud Cunnington was the first to draw attention to a Romano-British settlement in the area, on which she published a paper in the Wiltshire Archaeology Magazine in 1908, but its subsequent description as a village, villa, bathhouse or shrine clearly showed there was a lack of consensus over its nature. The current project grew out of this conundrum, and a B.A. dissertation by a member of the WAFG, which highlighted earlier activity, particularly during the Late Prehistoric period.
Aided by a precisely located magnetometer survey, kindly carried out by Archaeological Surveys Ltd, five trenches were opened over specific targets during the first season. Initial interpretations appear to: confirm the presence of an Early Iron Age enclosure; suggest a possible Middle Bronze Age enclosure; and have begun unravelling some of the chronology of the Romano-British enclosures. As yet, there is no evidence for a Romano-British building. However, the discovery of an extensive deposit of tufa, apparently misinterpreted as structures in the past, appears to be cause of at least some of the misunderstanding of the nature of the Romano-British activity.
The field group's Bromham-Rowdefield project team, again led by Phil Andrews of Wessex Archaeology, completed a second season of excavation in early September. A change in crop necessitated moving to a different area of the site, but this provided the opportunity to investigate a pair of enigmatic oval features, which clearly showed up in aerial photographs. It was also possible to confirm that a pair of linear features, partially excavated last year, are, indeed, part of a Romano-British road/trackway.
Prior to excavation, the area was subject to a magnetometer survey, kindly carried out by Archaeological Surveys Ltd. As well as allowing precise positioning of trenches, the survey also identified further potential archaeological features, including a group of anomalies, which excavation showed to be a rare example of two T-shaped Romano-British corn dryers, sharing a common stoke hole. One of the best finds from this year's excavation came from this feature: a two-pronged Romano-British hoe. Conclusive interpretation of the pair of 'running track' shaped oval features was not possible this year, although they are undoubtedly Prehistoric, probably dating to the Early Bronze Age. A fine example of a late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age plano-convex flint knife was found in one of the ditches.
Again led by Phil Andrew's of Wessex Archaeology, the third season of the WAFG's Bromham/Rowdefield project saw the largest area of excavation to date. Thanks to Clive Green, the main excavation this year was preceded by a highly successful and enjoyable training weekend which provided a welcome 'refresher' for some, and a well received introduction to field work for a group of new members.
The excavation strategy for the project has been to open targeted evaluation trenches over the numerous potentially archaeological anomalies, identified by magnetometer surveys kindly undertaken by Archaeological Surveys Ltd. Five such trenches were excavated this year.
Apparent from this year's results is the increasing evidence for grain processing, suggesting significant arable based agriculture in the area during the later Romano-British period. Last year's excavation found an unusual pairing of two T-shaped corn driers, set at right angles and sharing the same stoke hole. Corn driers now appear to be a recurring feature of the site, with evidence of two further, but separate examples discovered in 2016. One, however, appears to have gone out of use, and its remaining structure then incorporated into the foundations of a later rectangular building. The magnetometer surveys suggest that other corn driers are likely across the site. Further Romano-British features identified this year included another building, a trackway, and a substantial boundary ditch.
One of the most intriguing features of the area are a pair of oval enclosures clearly visible in crop marks and aerial photographs. An anomaly targeted within the larger of these, produced one of the most unexpected and interesting discoveries this year; a pit containing a large quantity of Late Neolithic Grooved Ware (Durrington Walls type), animal bone and struck flint. The assemblage is yet to be fully analysed, and it is hoped that funding can be found for C14 dating in the future. The albeit small scale excavation across the ditches of the enclosures has produced little in terms of finds, although a fine Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age Plano-convex knife was found in the smaller of the two in 2015. Their date and function, therefore, remain uncertain.
Environmental samples from the three seasons of excavation are currently being analysed by Historic England, and a report will be produced in due course. Two further seasons of excavation are planned, with an interim report on the findings to date intended for publication in the 2017 edition of the Wiltshire Archaeology Magazine.
'Our best yet' was the resounding response from volunteers taking part in the fourth season of excavation of the WAFG's Bromham/Rowdefield project led by Phil Andrews of Wessex Archaeology. Thanks again to Clive Green, the field group was also able to provide another enjoyable training weekend during the course of the main excavation.
One of the questions that we had hoped to answer this year was the relationship between a Late Neolithic pit discovered in 2016, and one of the Prehistoric oval enclosures identified in 2015. Unfortunately, a 5m x 5m trench opened within the enclosure identified no evidence of Prehistoric features, but did reveal post holes relating to the Post-Medieval parish boundary. However, a better understanding of the Middle Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (MAWII) enclosures found in 2014 was established, with further evidence of settlement in the Iron Age. This was indicated by the partial excavation of an an Iron Age roundhouse drip gully, as well as an Iron Age pit.
Historically the site was thought to have been the location of a large Romano-British stone building, either a villa or bath house, yet the project had found no evidence of this during the past three seasons. A stone building was, however, found this year with finds suggesting it to be the site of a Roman-British smithy, the location fitting well with an area of possible building stone identified during ploughing.
Undoubtedly this year's highlight was the discovery of a possible Romano-British water shrine. A votive aspect to the site had been postulated in the past, although commentators had noted that the head of the spring itself, Mother Anthony's Well, showed no signs of monumentalization. What was clear from this year's excavation was that people had simply been looking in the wrong place! Kerry Donaldson of Archaeological Surveys Ltd, the generous providers of geophysics for the project, suggested looking at specific anomaly which on excavation proved to be a deep oval stone structure lined with a 'waterproof' cement. Construction techniques, morphology, and the presence of opus signinum strongly suggest a Romano-British date. Springs are prone to move over time, and it seems that this 'cistern' was, in all likelihood, constructed over an earlier spring head - the original Mother Anthony's Well!
With some sadness, in September of 2018 the AFG completed the final season of their Bromham/Rowdefield project, and bid a fond farewell to Mother Anthony's Well. Between 2014-17 excavations had taken place to the immediate SW of the spring, but earlier non-invasive fieldwork had also revealed a late prehistoric enclosure (MAW I) to the SE, this thought to date to the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age transition (800 - 600BC). So 2018 saw the team moving fields to find out if this was indeed the case.
Thanks to Clive Green and Jayne O'Connell, we were again able to run a training weekend enabling six new members to experience their first taste of excavation. The project has grown in popularity over the years with over 60 different volunteers taking part, and places were in such demand last year that on some days we managed to squeeze in nearly 30 people. A record!
Unlike previous years where the archaeology was more complex because of the multi-period nature of the area under excavation, 2018 was far more straightforward. Indeed there were few surprises as much of what was discovered had already been anticipated from the very clear geophysical survey results produced by Dave Sabin and Kerry Donaldson of Archaeological Surveys Ltd. Thus MAW I was indeed an enclosure dating to the earliest phase of the Iron Age, which in turn respected two earlier Bronze Age Barrows.
As is often the case with archaeology one of the most interesting discoveries was made on the last day when the hearth and drip gully of a standard sized Iron Age roundhouse was found within a small sub enclosure inside MAW I. Interestingly, this was aligned with the entrance which may suggest a higher status building.
Post-excavation analysis is now underway following completion of the finds database (we have 5500 sherds of pottery, almost 4000 fragments of animal bone and a variety of other finds), with a full report of our findings anticipated in a forthcoming edition of WAM. Not only has it been a very successful and enjoyable AFG project, but the results overall are of regional significance. In addition to the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Romano-British discoveries, the pair of Early Iron Age enclosures are of great interest in terms of the contemporary and nationally important midden sites at Potterne and East Chisenbury.
Once again a huge 'thank you' to all the team for their hard work, loyalty, enthusiasm and humour over the life of the project.