On Friday 23rd June nine members of the FHS and four guests from the Lechlade History Society were given a guided tour of the recently-discovered archaeological site near Fairford courtesy of Ken Welsh of Oxford Archaeology. The site consists of about 3 hectares (7 acres) and was first identified as being of potential interest as far back as 1989 when a survey was done of the area. Although the discovery of a Roman cemetery has made the headlines, the site is much more extensive and has been inhabited at least from the early Bronze Age to Saxon times.
The site has a slight ridge which would have sloped down towards a water course resulting from glacial activity. The earliest feature so far discovered on the site is a Bronze Age burial, probably of a similar date to a burial mound which is a listed scheduled monument in the west of the field.
The Romano-British cemetery was thought to have been associated with a Roman building that will be investigated in a future dig. The cemetery has about 75 late Roman burials aligned along the north-south axis (left). The skeletons were found in a variety of burial positions, some on their back, some on their side and some face down. Some were found with the head removed and placed between the feet. The state of preservation of the bones varied considerably. In some graves nails were found to indicate that wooden coffins had been used. A small number of graves had a lining of dressed stones, possibly from the nearby building. The cemetery may have been in a wooded area as darker areas of soil showed the faint outline of tree trunks and roots between the graves. Ken Welsh said that, apart from major towns such as Cirencester, it was unusual to find such a large number of graves in a Roman cemetery.
A few yards from the first group of graves was another group of about 10-12 graves, all aligned along the east-west axis (right) and close together in what looks like a family plot. It is possible that this alignment represents a group of people who had converted to Christianity during the late Romano-British period. These were higher status graves, one of which contained the remains of a lead-lined coffin. There were more grave goods found in this group and three of them contained knives.
The site also shows evidence of a later Saxon settlement with a large number of grub huts which had sunken floors (left) that were gradually filled after they were abandoned and can now be seen as areas of darker soil. There was evidence of crafts being carried on in the Saxon period with a number of loom weights and pottery fragments being found. Also seen were a number of post holes that indicate the existence of buildings and a palisade that cut across the site. Clusters of buildings were found in different areas and it is hoped that a chronology of the various building phases can be determined with further investigation and the use of Carbon 14 dating.
Criss-crossing the site is the evidence of several ditches (right), obvious as darker stains in the soil. Although one ditch is modern, the ditches date from the earlier eras and were probably enclosure boundaries.
Ken Welsh showed the group a number of finds (below) including the three knives found in the graves, a Roman coin, a fine silver needle and weaving tools.
Saxon pin beater used whilst weaving textiles on a vertical warp-weighted loom
Roman Knife found in a Grave
More work will be done on the site next yearand a report by Oxford Archaeology published in the future.
© 2013 Fairford History Society