Oxford Archaeology
Discovery is only half the story




The trenches around Hill Farm

Cliffton Meadow and the Thames floodplain


The Archaeology of the


The trenches around Hill Farm

Trench 13 (Figure 1) investigated the intersection of a rectangular enclosure ditch with a curving boundary, and showed that the boundary was Iron Age, and the enclosure Roman. A deposit of cattle jaws (Plate 1) was found in the top of the boundary ditch, which may have been to make the boundary stronger; cattle skulls are often found at entrances to enclosures and settlements. The curving boundary may have marked the limits of the settlement below the hillfort at some stage, and the enclosure makes the third now known for the Roman period.

Figure 1
(Reproduced by OS Licence No. AL 100005569)


Trench 14 dug a small slice through the Early Iron Age midden found by Rhodes in the 1940s, and visited again by Time Team in 2003. We wanted to excavate a sample of the midden in detail, to see how it was formed, and to investigate an earlier land surface buried beneath it, which Time Team did not have time to investigate.

Plate 1

Over 3000 finds came from the midden in our small trench, including quernstone fragments and grinding stones, metal pins, a bone needle and other bone tools, spindlewhorls and loomweight fragments, as well as masses of pottery and animal bone (Plates 2 and 4).
Plate 2: Early Iron Age Swan's neck pin
Under the midden there were postholes cut into the late Bronze Age ground surface, and we hope that the samples taken for environmental analysis will tell us what the landscape was like at this time.Trench 18 was opened up towards the top of Round Hill (Plate 5) to investigate an area of fuzzy geophysical readings that suggested a possible change in the underlying geology, and to confirm the apparent absence of archaeological features on the hilltop. The trench found chalk, not sands and gravels as expected, but the only archaeological feature was a shallow broad hollow containing an iron nail, probably a medieval field boundary. Despite the feeling that Round Hill must have had important archaeology on it, this still eludes us.

South of Hill Farm Trenches 15 and 19 were opened up to examine circular enclosures showing on the magnetometer survey (see Figure 1).Trench 19 targeted an apparently continuous circle on the line of the curving boundary ditch examined in Trench 13. The ditch appeared to stop short of the circle, perhaps suggesting that this was an earlier burial mound used as a marker. Our first trench was positioned just west of the circle, so we extended it to pick up half of the enclosure.

Figure 2
We found that the circular enclosure picked up by the geophysics was middle Iron Age (350-0 BC), and had a neighbour on the north side, though as this had a much smaller ditch it had not been picked up by the geophysical survey (Figure 2). The size of the enclosures (10-15 m in diameter), and the presence of postholes and a possible wall-slot inside suggests that they surrounded roundhouses. Several contemporary storage pits had been dug on the west side, and the finds included pieces of a probable clay furnace for iron working (Plate 3).
Plate 3
Cut by the middle Iron Age circular enclosures were two dating to the Early Iron Age (650-350 BC), and a third was found at the south end of the trench. The enclosure gullies were slight, and the enclosures smaller (c 7 m), but again the enclosures surrounded postholes. Three large postholes may indicate that the central enclosure surrounded a square four-post structure, a raised storehouse (similar to granaries used up until the 20th century in Eastern Europe), and the other enclosures may have done the same. This suggests to us that the early Iron Age settlement may have been highly organised, with dense storage pits visible on the geophysical survey just below the hillfort, a midden area (investigated in Trench 14) further west, houses in the centre and four-post storehouses to the south, all at one time surrounded by a boundary ditch (see Trench 13).
Plate 4
Plate 5

Trench 15, just south of Hill Farm, was thought likely to be the ditches of a middle Iron Age enclosure surrounding a roundhouse. Excavations north of the road had found plenty of early Iron Age evidence (600-350 BC), but hardly anything later in the Iron Age, and we wished to find out whether the settlement had drifted westwards and southwards away from Castle Hill over time.

Plate_6 Plate_3    
Plate 7: Pot found beneath a pile of pebbles in an early Iron Age pit
Plate 6: Quernstone in pit
The trench proved to be full of archaeology, with an early Iron Age circular gully and storage pits cut through by parallel ditches, and then by the large enclosure seen on the geophysical survey, which was indeed middle Iron Age. The large enclosure surrounded the gullies of a roundhouse with storage pits inside, and had an annex to the north. This too was superseded by a series of late Iron Age/early Roman ditches, showing that occupation continued here for at least 700 years (Figure 3).
Several of the pits had a layer of charcoal on the bottom, possibly from burning off the grain when the storage pits were emptied. Charred barley, spelt wheat and other seeds were recovered. The pits also contained a rich variety of other finds, including two human burials (a young adult male and infant), quernstones, iron slag, spindlewhorls and loomweights, smashed pots, animal skulls, struck flints and bone tools (Plates 6 and 7). These suggest that deliberate offerings were made when the pits were backfilled, perhaps in thanks to the gods of the underworld for successful storage.
Figure 3

Trench 15 has shown us that the early Iron Age settlement was even larger than we had thought, and extended beyond the curving boundary ditch found in Trench 13. Like Trench 19, it continued to be a domestic area in the middle Iron Age, but unlike 19 this domestic activity continued into the Roman period. At the end of one of the ditches another smashed pot was found, which has since been reconstructed (Plate 8). This Roman activity dates to the 1st century AD, the first proof from the village site that settlement continued across the Iron Age/Roman transition.

  Link to the Northmoor Trust website  
Plate 8