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Oxford Archaeology



Winter Programme


The trenches around Hill Farm

Cliffton Meadow and the Thames floodplain



The Archaeology of the Wittenhams
Clifton Meadow and the Thames floodplain


North of Little Wittenham on a large flattish expanse of gravel terrace lies Northfield Farm, where the cropmarks of the circular ditches of Bronze Age burial mounds, a prehistoric field system and pit alignment, and Roman farmsteads linked by trackways have been photographed. In the late 19th century the farmer excavated parts of the site, recovering many Roman finds, and the site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Figure 4


On the north, the cropmarks of the Roman trackway, and of an earlier field system cut by it, end short of the river Thames, and we wanted to find out whether they stopped at the edge of the floodplain, or continued into Clifton Meadow but were now buried under alluvium from flooding (Figure 4). We were particularly keen to date the prehistoric field system, to find waterlogged deposits within the ditches that would tell us what the environment had been like, and to examine the alluvium below and above each set of ditches. Alluvium is soil that has washed into the river from ploughed fields, and the amount and character of alluvium can indicate how much of the countryside was cultivated.

Figure 5

With permission of the Messrs Emmett, we carried out magnetometer survey at the north end of Northfield Farm, and found both sets of ditches continuing, so we dug Trenches 11 and 12 to find the ditches within the meadow. To our surprise, the ditches were not covered by any depth of alluvium, and none contained any waterlogged deposits. We did however find three, not two, parallel ditches in Trench 12, plus another at an angle that looked likely to belong to the prehistoric field system. There were however no finds in any of the features. (Figure 5).

We traced the trackway ditches northwards using magnetometer and resistivity survey for more than 60 m, and also augered the deposits every 10 m to look for alluvium, which we found at about 80 m north. We then dug Trench 20 in line with the trackway far enough north to be within the alluvium, and found the trackway ditches, which this time did contain waterlogged peat deposits.

Plate 9: Roman trackway ditch containing waterlogged peat deposit under alluvium
The alluvium was still not very deep, so we also opened up Trench 21, 30 m further north, and found that the trackway ditches were shallowing, though gravel thrown out of the ditches survived as thin banks on either side (Plate 9).
We now know that the trackway is here because the gravel terrace extends northwards at this point towards the river, making this the driest route towards what may have been a river crossing. The trackway was not however deliberately surfaced, and there were no wheel ruts to suggest it had seen any volume of traffic.

An Open Day with guided tours of the trenches, displays of the finds and explanation of the plans for the Northmoor Trust's Landscape Evolution Centre at Hill Farm was held on Sunday 22nd August, and was attended by nearly 1000 visitors. We would like to thank all those who took part in making this such a successful day.

Link to the Northmoor Trust website