|16 October 2015
Neolithic causewayed enclosure discovered in Oxfordshire
Excavations at site 80 kilometres northwest of London revealed a complex, multi-period archaeological landscape with significant remains dating to the Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, and Saxon periods.
The most unexpected discovery was a causewayed enclosure - one of only 80 or so such monuments known in the country.
Causewayed enclosures are of great significance in the Neolithic period, and represent the earliest known enclosure of open space. They vary greatly in form, but are characterised by their perimeter earthworks - ditches and banks constructed in short lengths, separated by undisturbed ground. The enclosures do not appear to have been permanently occupied, and were probably places where dispersed groups periodically gathered for a range of activities.
The newly discovered site has three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thame. A small Neolithic henge monument was later constructed within the causewayed enclosure. A second, smaller ring-ditch close to the henge may also be of later Neolithic date.
During the Bronze Age, the site saw no activity which left a mark in the archaeological record, however it is possible the site continued to play an important role in the lives of local communities.
Not until the early Iron Age was a settlement built on the site - mostly on lower ground, away from the causewayed enclosure. The remains of a substantial enclosure, roundhouses, clusters of pits, and a number of granaries date to this period.
During the Roman occupation, a number of trackways were built leading to the higher ground occupied by the causewayed enclosure. A series of enclosures were constructed off the trackways and these were adapted and modified throughout the Roman period. Within the enclosures, at least six corn-drying ovens and a number of circular ovens and hearths were built. It is likely the site was then an important centre for processing agricultural produce from the surrounding area.
Following the end of the Roman period, the site was once again settled. The town of Thame is known to have been founded in the Saxon period, and it is likely the site was part of this settlement. The remains of eleven sunken-featured buildings were found, dating to the 6th to 7th century CE. Characteristic of the Saxon period, these were roughly rectangular pits dug into the ground, with a post at either end supporting a simple roof. It is thought they were workshops. Many contained objects associated with weaving, such as loom weights, bone pins and spindle whorls.
Edited from Cotswold Arhcaeology (October 2015)
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