Digging for history near Barcombe Roman Villa

Dig near Bridge Farm
Dig near Bridge Farm
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An excavation near Barcombe Roman Villa revealed a Roman carved wooden post, so rare even the Museum of London does not possess one.

The Culver Archaeological Project, which is leading the investigations into the area, revealed the findings of its summer dig this week.

Barcombe Roman Villa

Barcombe Roman Villa

Excavations focussed around a Roman barn near Bridge Farm which formed part of a settlement near the villa and could date to the Ist century AD.

A Roman coin, a plain wrap-around brass finger ring, a fine turned gaming counter or small spindle whorl, and the back half of a shoe/sandal complete with hobnails were discovered.

They also found Roman pottery including some pieces of Samian and beaker fragments, including some possibly from the Nene Valley.

This was a type of Romano British pottery produced in Cambridgeshire between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD.

A total of 17 Roman coins were unearthed, including two Diva Faustina from after her death in AD141, and two of Lucius Verus c. AD169, around the time the settlement was most likely enclosed by defensive ditches.

The most recent Roman coin found was a House of Constantine 3/4, issued between AD330 and 335.

During the excavation they also discovered an enamel brooch in the shape of a hare, and a small square of silver inscribed with (V)TER(E) (F)ELIX (utere felix i.e. use with good luck) which is thought to be the bezel attachment to a 4th century ring.

Director of the Culver Archaeological Project David Millum said: “Our most exciting discovery was the ogival carved timber as this is very rare from Roman sites and we are still seeking evidence of anything similar.

“The Museum of London does not have anything like it.

“It is also interesting as it was used as a pad beneath the posts of the barn so is even older than that and from a previous structure, building or boat.

“We do not have date for posts as yet as they have to be kept in water in the dark until preserved but hope to be able to get dendro (tree-ring) dates on them in the future.

“Prior to obtaining dating from either the posts or pottery in the post holes we can only say the barn would be from the 1st to 4th century AD period.

“The barn is part of the settlement which is separate to the villa but may have been in the same ownership as might the whole district.”

David said he was hoping University College London would clean and conserve metalwork and Durham University would help with preserving the timbers, as part of practical projects for conservation students.

He explained they did not know who owned or lived in the villa, although the group presumes it was connected to the Bridge Farm settlement.

The late 2nd century double ditch enclosure around the settlement suggests that it had some official function, probably a form of staging post (mutatio) for changes of horses/mules and a secure overnight stopping place for goods wagons.

The settlement may have even been a bustling market village in the late 1st century before the large villa and bathhouse were built when the villa site had only a roundhouse or possibly a small rectangular farmhouse on it.

David added: “Next year we hope to continue to excavate another small area of the settlement, possibly within the central enclosed area which, being on arable land, is more difficult to access during the summer as this is the prime growing season on the farm.”

The area targeted was an 18 by 6 metre rectangle of 13 round anomalies observed from a recent geophysical survey which the group believed represented a pattern of postholes for a substantial building; the first building to be investigated at the settlement.

The dig, which was open to volunteers and students, ran through July and into early August with more than 60 people turning out to help during the six week period.

The site revealed a variety of ditches, pits, hearths, and post holes, including the 13 one metre wide holes that formed the rectangular barn.

In the first three weeks the team concentrated on the remainder of the site, tracing three major ditches and numerous small post and stake holes, as well as two hearths.

Whilst the hearths still require further analysis initial interpretation favours one being an oven whilst the other, which contained several lumps of iron slag, may be a secondary forging hearth.

Two large pits were also excavated and have been initially interpreted as shallow wells for gathering surface water from the high water table.