Tag Archives: Thames Valley

Investigations on the River Chess

On Thursday the 21st of June, Yvonne Edwards of Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society (CVAHS) gave an excellent talk about their investigations along the river Chess.

Yvonne illustrated talk began with CVAHS excavations at a Burnt Mound adjacent to the river. Yvonne said that burnt mounds are common in Ireland and Scotland but not so common in Britain. Most are associated with a good stream or river water supply, hearths and a large trough. The troughs, that are thought to have held water, are sometimes clay-lined or wood-lined. Radiocarbon dates for these mounds vary quite widely, ranging from the late Neolithic to the Iron Age, but most between 2,000 – 800BC during the Bronze Age.

The mound is made of charcoal and heat shattered flints which are thought to be the remains of stones heated in fires and wood burnt on the fire.  The hot stones were subsequently used to heat the water in the trough. There are various theories about what the hot  water was for – possibly cooking, bathing, dyeing or leather treatment – but no general agreement as yet.

CVAHS’s test excavation spanned four days and enabled them to make a section through the mound and uncover the underlying surface of river deposits. They also recovered pieces of crude pottery and some fragments of bone. The pottery fragments have been examined by a specialist and identified as late Bronze Age (1,200 – 800BC) jar fragments tempered with flint. One of the pieces appears to have slight finger impressions in the surface, which is very common in Bronze Age pots.

No trace of a hearth, or trough, were found during this initial excavation, but CVAHS hope to return in the future for a more comprehensive investigation.

Yvonne next spoke about their dig at a suspected Romano-British site near Sarratt. CVAHS had conducted an extensive geophysical survey near the Chess at Sarratt. This had revealed numerous indications of tracks, walls and buildings. A vast array of Roman coins and artifacts have been found in this area since the 1960s and they were pretty sure there was a significant Romano-British settlement there.

Three trenches were positioned in order to examine features that CVAHS had previously identified by resistivity survey. These included what looked like a large rectangular area enclosed by a ditch and possible traces of a small building.

These trenches were dug and uncovered evidence of possible enclosure ditches, dumped building material and pottery all dating to the Romano-British period. This quickly uncovered several undated pottery sherds, a tile with the imprint of a hobnailed sandal, and another with a paw print, probably of a dog.

CVAHS succeeded in finding ditches in two trenches. In one case the ditch contained pottery dating from the late Late Iron Age and first century. The other ditch contained pottery dating  from the second to third centuries, many iron and bronze objects and a substantial number of third century coins. Other trenches produced a large amount of Romano-British roof tile fragments, together with some floor tile and also flue tile, indicating under-floor (hypocaust) heating.

These finds indicate that human occupation probably spanned at least the period from the Iron Age to the Romano-British period. During the latter period there appears to have been at least one villa and/or a bath house on the site, as indicated by the flue tile fragments.

The third site Yvonne discussed was the Chesham Bois Manor.  The current Chesham Bois House stands on the site of a much older and larger residence and estate dating back to the 11th century. There is evidence that the estate was one of the 5 estates (or manors) listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as part of Chesham. The estate had had a long and varied history since the days of King Harold. It was taken over by the Norman Bishop Odo of Bayeaux, but by 1213 the de Bois family were in residence, they brought their name from France and it became attached to the Parish.

Subsequently various families owned and extended the manor, especially the Cheyne family, from (around) 1430 to 1735. The house and estate were then purchased by the Duke of Bedford, but were considered of little value. The house was eventually demolished and another building replaced it in the early nineteenth century. Excavations by the Chess Valley Archaeological Society uncovered a 12th century pitch tile hearth and a smithying pit.   In 2006  Time Team asked if they could take part in these investigations (Series 14, Episode 10 – available on Channel 4 OD) and their work over 3 days helped to discover more  about  the old Manor House. CVAHS volunteers help Tony and co., to map out 17th and 18th century features and buildings.

Tea, coffee and biscuits followed a question and answer session. Yvonne was thanked for a very interesting and informative talk and we departed with a much greater knowledge of the history of a town not far from Marlow.

Neolithic & Bronze Age Settlements in the Thames Valley

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.

Dr Gill Hey
Dr Gill Hey