The Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society has published in its annual journal a report on the archaeological excavations that took place in Talbot Close in 2014 and 2015. The excavations were overseen by Wessex Archaeology, and are the result of Taylor Wimpey’s commissioning the work, the planning process having failed to formally request the excavation. The full report is in the OAHS journal volume 85, and the figures reproduced below are with permission of the Society, for which we thank them.
This article, by Martin Ricketts, was published in Harwell News edition 214 February 2019. Thanks to Martin for allowing it to be included here. Permission to include the OAHS figures on this website (rather than in Harwell News) is pending.
The first figure shows the area excavated, which is to the west of the site. A series of strips north of Grove Road was also examined but these only showed a low density of material. Within the area features found included a number of circular ditches and numerous pits.
An enlargement of the excavation site is shown in the second figure, which indicates the dates of the features. The earliest period recorded was actually from a pit across the Grove Road, found in the pipe trench that was being monitored after the main excavation; this was the middle to late Bronze Age. Most dateable items indicate the site was mainly occupied in the early to middle Iron Age, the 5th to 3rd centuries BC. There is evidence the site was then abandoned and not resettled until the early 1st century AD. The ditches running north-west to south-east and the large metalled surface on the eastern edge show remains indicating settlement from the 1st to 4th centuries. The line features roughly parallel with the edges of the dig are due to medieval ridge and furrow.
Going back to the Iron Age period, twelve roundhouse features were recorded, with only one having post-holes and the others being just ditches. There appears from elsewhere to have been an evolution during the Iron Age to drainage ditches around structures without post holes.
The largest part of the report concerns the pottery, of which about 56 kg were extracted, but this was about 3,000 pieces! It is believed that the early material could have come from within a few miles, some of it from Little Wittenham; in Roman times it was still mainly coarse wares but finer items were coming from over the south-east of England and Gaul.
About 3000 fragments of animal bone were found, about 70% dating to the Iron Age and 25% to the Romano British period. Of those that could be identified about half were from sheep and a quarter from cattle, although the latter would have provided more food. Pigs represented about 10% of the material. In comparison with other sites in the area Harwell has nearly the highest sheep to cattle ratio. It also had a high proportion of older sheep, indicating that wool production may have been as important as meat.
There were only 68 pieces of flint, and the report on them by Phil Harding, whom you may recall from Time Team, speaks of the collection as an ‘example of the final demise of flint working in Britain’. The plant remains, surviving as charred fragments, indicated various wheat species was the main crop. Only a quarter of the 350 pits were investigated; some were steep sided and appeared to have been used for grain storage while other shallow ones were just for waste.
Four burials were found, 2 from the Iron Age, and 2 from Roman times. One of the latter was of a man in his 50s, with a coin dated to 332 AD close to his head and a quartzite pebble in his hand.
Small amounts of metalwork and coinage of the Roman period were found. But the report regards the Iron-Age weaving comb made from horse bone as the outstanding find from the dig. They say “figural representations are very rare in British prehistory and the Harwell comb supplies the earliest naturalist representation of a human face currently known”.
The extent of the site to the east, south and west was not fully established. The artefacts will in due course be deposited with the County Museum Service.