David Oliver is the Chairman of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group; on the 14th November he spoke about SOAG’s recent investigations and developments in a number of sites across South Oxfordshire.
SOAG was founded in 1969, since when it has undertaken a number of investigations, sometimes with input from professional archaeologists, including the fifteen year excavation of a 3rd to 4th century Roman villa site at Gatehampton near Goring-on-Thames. Roman remains were discovered during work on the local water supply, field walking produced further finds and photographs taken from 50 feet above the site record what transpired to be a Roman villa with a large central room with a mosaic floor, a bath house and evidence of later industrial use.
Another Roman site, at Binfield Heath, dug mainly in the 1980s by the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group, suffered badly from raids by ‘night hawks’. A circular mound was excavated and found to contain Roman coins and tiles. It was thought to be the spoil heap of a nearby villa but, sadly, metal detectors got to the villa site itself before the archaeologists. A nearby rectangular enclosure with double ditch and rounded ends is evident from aerial photographs. A resistivity survey by SOAG turned up nothing useful due to extremely dry site conditions, but they are now researching old records and plan further work on the site.
Aerial photographs have proved useful in investigating many sites, and David recommended the use of Google Earth, which even includes, for some areas, historical photographs. Such use of aerial photographs was demonstrated in those taken in, respectively, 2009 and 2010 in Emmer Green, where circular parch marks indicating possible Bronze Age barrows show up clearly in the 2009 photograph but had been all but obliterated by 2010, following development of a playground.
Two manor houses were known to have existed at Brightwell Baldwin but their locations were unknown. A late 16th century dove cote, presumably related to the original Medieval manor house, still stands. The second Medieval manor burned down in 1788 in the owners’ absence and reports exist of a court case following the fire; servants were arrested and fined for breaking into the cellar, leading to scenes of drunkenness. A new replacement manor house was built in the late 18th century. Without clearly defining the site of the manors, a geophysical survey revealed a vast number of features, including a carriageway and circular turning point, from which the likely position of the manors was deduced.
Finds of early medieval floor tiles, mid 17th century slipware and late 17th century Delft all dated from before the fire, helped indicate the site of the manor houses, and an early Medieval fireplace with a later wall over it provided, at last, the probable location of the 18th century manor house overlaying the earlier manor. A large quantity of broken glass found in a burnt area could well be the scene of the incident leading to the 18th century court case!
Nearer to Marlow is a remarkable site at Highlands Farm near Henley, where a huge number of primitive stone tools, thought to have been made by Homo Erectus 450,000 years ago (thus predating Homo Sapiens) were found during gravel extraction. It is the largest such find in the country. This is a scheduled site but, with the threat of development on adjoining land, SOAG have been asked to investigate whether the archaeological site extends further. Despite the difficulties posed by many ancient swallow holes, finds have included Neolithic and Mesolithic flints and, most importantly, two Paelolithic items, namely a core and a primitive tool. David brought these with him to show us.
Other SOAG investigations included a search for the history of the village of Ewelme, which did discover an unknown possible early Medieval manor house at the site of the school and almshouse, an ancient mound in an (undisclosed) Chilterns field and early Medieval or Saxon enclosures at Greyhone Wood. A possible future project is investigation of a Victorian boatyard at South Stoke.
For further information you may like to look at SOAG’s website: www.soagarch.org.uk