Archaeology under lockdown

on Friday, 18 December 2020. Posted in Archaeology, History Centre

Almost reaching the end of 2020 has given me a good opportunity to reflect on what has been a most unusual and difficult year but one in which archaeology in Wiltshire and Swindon continues to excite and surprise.

Over the course of this past year around 45 fieldwork projects relating to planning applications were undertaken across Wiltshire and Swindon. There were also 9 research or academic excavations. The volume of work the Archaeology Service has had to deal with has not diminished during the Covid pandemic and if anything has been more intense than before, with some of the large projects we are involved with such as the A303 Stonehenge project and other road schemes in Wiltshire and Swindon. Commercial field archaeology has carried on throughout the year as construction projects have continued. Our team have been allowed to continue going out on site to monitor the field work, subject to strict health and safety policies and Covid-safe practices

Sadly, what we haven’t been able to do so much of this year is the outreach work that we all enjoy so much, the archaeology walks and talks, but hopefully in a few short months we will be able to resume these activities. Please watch this space for details of events from the Spring onwards

Fieldwork in Wiltshire 2020. Map by Tom Sunley

One of the exciting projects we have been dealing with stems from a planning application for a solar farm development between Beanacre and Lacock. It was in this area that Wessex Archaeology excavated Roman remains in 2014 that turned out to relate to a previously unknown large Roman settlement located on an east-west Roman road. The geophysical survey from this latest project and the trial trenching has helped to reveal the extent of a Roman town on its south and east side. This now means we have 6 rather than 5 Roman small towns in Wiltshire and Swindon. Unlike Durocornovium (Wanborough), and Sorviodunum (Old Sarum) and Verlucio (Sandy Lane), this one doesn’t seem to have a Roman name. Who knows how many others may be out there waiting to be discovered?

The County Archaeologist examining trenches at Beancre with Cotswod Archaeology: Photo Neil Adam

Sticking to the theme of Romans, there have been other exciting Roman discoveries in and around Swindon over the last year. This includes the excavation by Cotswold Archaeology of a Roman cremation cemetery close to Sams’s Lane, Blunsdon. Over thirty burials were excavated, most cremations, with the exception of one crouched inhumation burial which may be earlier. I await the full report from Cotswold Archaeology for further details.

Roman cremation burial: Photo by Cotswold Archaeology
Crouched inhumation burial: Photo by Cotswold Archaeology

A little closer to Swindon, Oxford Archaeology has undertaken evaluation work in relation to a housing application alongside Wanborough Road. Here we have had a chance to put some trenches in part of the Roman small town that is Scheduled. This area, close to Wick Lane, has not been looked at by archaeologists in recent times and was thought to perhaps be an area where preservation of archaeological remains has been compromised by modern ground distrubance. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find yet more burials, this time close to the line of the A419 (a Roman road), and traces of masonary walls in the middle of the site. Given these findings, this area won’t be built on.

Roman Walls at Wanborough: Photo Neil Adam

Another large solar farm development at Stanton Fitzwarren near Swindon has given us the opportuniy for geophysical survey and trial trenching over across the whole area, resulting in the discover of three settlement sites we didn’t know about before.

These comprise a large multi-phase Late Iron Age and Early Roman farmstead in the middle of the evaluation area, plus two smaller Roman settlement areas to the north west and south east. The larger settlement was made up of over a dozen sub rectangular enclosures with at least two post-built round houses. The smaller settlement areas or small farm areas were about 200m away comprising one or two enclosures with traces of round houses. None of these settlement features had been previously discovered by aerial photography and illustrates the great benefit of opportunities to carry out geophysical survey over a wide area often associated with solar farm developments. As part of this scheme some of the settlement evidence will be preserved outside of the development and other areas will be subject to further excavation.

In conclusion, it has been a very busy year for the Archaeology Service, despite being forced to work from home for most of the year and I hope this blog gives you a flavour of what we have been doing and the exciting new findings. A big thank you to all those commerical field archaeologists who have carried on working hard in the field through this difficult year, under difficult conditions and many Covid-restrictions when most of us have been working from home.

The Archaeology Service wishes everyone a great Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.

Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger
County Archaeologist


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