Dr Gill Hey is the Director of Regions at Oxford Archaeology and Project Director of several excavations.
Dr Hey said her talk would tell us about developments in the Thames Valley during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. (The Neolithic period is 4000BC – 2200BC and the Bronze Age 2200 – 700 BC). Gill also mentioned the Mesolithic period which is prior to this, around 8500BC to 4000BC.
Gill said that when we were hunter-gatherers the landscape had a dense covering of trees, mainly oak, lime and willow, then the land started to be farmed at the start of the Neolithic period. We know people were in the area before this because tools have been found, such as microliths (small flint pieces used as arrowheads). Larger tools were found in the river, such as adzes (tool used for smoothing rough cut wood), it is thought these were deliberately deposited as they were found in clusters in the river.
Dr Hey explained that we start to find domesticated animals, cattle, also pigs and sheep and crops growing and she showed us a photograph of a midden (rubbish/waste dump) at Ascott-under-Wychwood which can be dated to 3900BC. The excavations by Oxford Archaeology of the international rowing lake at Dorney (The Eton Project) found a similar midden.
At Eton there were Mesolithic flint scatters (collections of items gathered from the surface of fields or disturbed ground) and Neolithic material, including pottery found in midden deposits.
We were shown photographs of arrowheads and polished stone axes from Eton which would have been used by the earliest farmers.
With regard to buildings/constructions, an excavation by Oxford
Archaeology on the flood plain at Yarnton found post holes of a building approximately 20m x 10m and Gill showed us a photograph of the reconstruction of this. Wessex Archaeology have recently excavated a similar, beam slot construction at Horton.
As more and more trees were cleared to enable settlements and land for agriculture, this caused the river to flood in the valley and people had to move their houses to higher ground, Gill explained this was an ecological disaster of the time, (it seems nothing changes).
At the end of the talk John Laker explained that one of the photographs of Neolithic settlement also showed the area of Roman occupation near Gatehampton which SOAG (South Oxford Archaeological Group) are currently investigating.
The talk was fascinating, I had no idea how much history of this age there is in the Thames Valley, that has been investigated, Dr Hey certainly kept us all interested.