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Roman and Saxon Finds in Garsington

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Those of you who walk your dog round St Mary’s will have been aware of the recent archaeological evaluation that took place in February. 

Thanks to the generosity of Geoff Young, who has granted me permission to read the report, I am able to share with you some of its findings.  John Moore Heritage Services dug six trenches in the land adjacent to St Mary’s in response to a planning application to develop the agricultural buildings to the north of the churchyard and extend the burial ground.  From this evaluation the team of archaeologists, who included Gavin Davis, Simona Denis, Pierre Manisse and Steve Leach, unearthed a number of remains and found some interesting ditches.  One of these ditches contained a fragment of mortarium (kitchen pottery) dating to 300-400 AD.  However, a number of other ditches were found which dated to the early medieval or Saxon period.  However, it is doubtful that the ditch containing the mortarium fragment can be dated Roman period.  Late Roman pottery is common on early medieval sites and the fragment of mortarium was recovered along with Saxon material.  It is more likely that this ditch is continuous with the others and dates to the early medieval period.  Other Roman remains included six sherds or potsherds (fragments of pottery) which are in keeping with the local pottery industry that was centred around the limestone hills of Garsington and Cuddesdon.  The Ashmolean museum has a permanent display of some of the pottery created from these local kilns.  For further information see: www.ashmolean.org/ash/britarch/roman-oxon/oxon-pottery.html.

The Roman remains were rather limited in number, whereas the majority of finds dated from the Saxon period.  Fourteen sherds were recovered dating to the 6th and 7th century.  These included fragments from handmade jars and a particularly large bodysherd (fragment of pottery from the body or main part of a jar) and joining rim.  A second rim from the same jar was also recovered as well as another jar that had sooting round the interior rim.  Jane Timby, one of the archaeologists, identified two bodysherds which came from a jar decorated with complex linear patterns.  Cooking pots were also found from the medieval period.

A number of animal bones were also recovered from the site.  These comprised of 41% cow and large mammal, 28% sheep or goat, 9% horse and 2% pig bones.  Their distribution however seemed to conform to the usual trend, with sheep and goats having predominance in the Saxon period and cattle in the Roman period.  Of the animal bones 26% showed signs of butchering, including hide removal, joint dismemberment and meat removal.  Chop marks were also found on some of the longer cow bones.  These marks are a common Roman feature and were used to extract marrow.

Conclusions: the presence of Roman pottery may indicate previous Roman occupation of the site but there are no clear features which can date this with certainty.  It is clear that the area has been in use at least since Saxon times and through to the late medieval period, though not intensively.  However, the Saxon pottery which was recovered is particularly well preserved.


Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington