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February 2011

East Oxford Archaeology Project: Newsletter February 2011


The weather is beginning to pick up and the prospect brightens for digging and surveying.  Since October the Project has been very busy and we have enjoyed getting to know a good number of you. There are now hundreds of people registered with the Project and an incredible enthusiasm for talks, training sessions and practical fieldwork.
Here’s a roundup of what has happened in the last few months:
Talks – combining the Project Tour of East Oxford Venues!
At our first Core Volunteers’ meeting you asked for a series of talks giving the background to East Oxford and Oxfordshire’s archaeology. We have been immensely lucky in recruiting knowledgeable and inspiring speakers – most of whom are also locals. The talks have been very popular.
So far we have had Dave Griffiths setting the scene by introducing landscape (or suburban-scape) archaeology; Hugo Lamdin-Whymark on the earliest prehistory – the talk where we realised bigger venues were a necessity; Gill Hey on the Neolithic and Bronze Age – with a great opportunity to buy Thames Through Time books at a special price, and Paul Booth on the Romans in Oxfordshire – held in Blackbird Leys, where we know Roman potters worked.
Talks still to come: all the speakers have excavated widely in this region and published books on the subject.
Gary Lock: on the Iron Age in Oxfordshire – do we have a hillfort on Rose Hill? 3 March 2011, 7pm at the Ark-T Centre, off Crowell Road in Church Cowley.
Trevor Rowley: on 1066 and the Normans, 22 March 2011, 7pm, at St James Church Centre, Beauchamp Lane, Cowley. 
Anne Dodd: on the Anglo-Saxons 400 – 1000 AD – Oxfordshire was a very important area in this period, 3 May 2011 at 7pm, venue TBC.
And, coming soon, in May Ann Cole on Placenames in Oxford and Oxfordshire and Graham Keevill on studying buildings.
Training Sessions
So far we have had training evenings covering excavation of small garden trenches (or test-pits) and maps in archaeology with practical sessions at Boundary Brook on geophysics and plane-table survey. We intend to repeat all of these sessions as they were over-subscribed.

There will also be sessions in the next few months on understanding the results of geophysics, on fieldwalking and woodland survey, on place-names, on aerial photographs and on writing and understanding archaeological reports – we know that some of you will be keen to be involved in the writing up of the various bits of excavation and survey.  In the end we want as many as possible of you to contribute to the final book!

The Website
Work on the new website is now well underway and we have been busy producing factsheets covering many of the main themes in archaeology. We are also creating areas for the test pit and geophysics reports, and spaces where your results and findings can be showcased. We hope this will be very much a website where we can all share our findings and watch as the history of East Oxford unfolds. We will let you know once it goes ‘live’ and hope you will help to test it and provide us with plenty of feedback and suggestions on what you would like to see there.
Out and About
As well as the practical training sessions and a number of archaeological walks – including a wonderful traipse on one of the coldest days of last year up the Lye Valley, through Warneford Meadow and past Bartlemas – we have begun work on the ground.  
Boundary Brook we recorded the lumps and bumps in the open area and began two test-pits. The cold and very wet weather stopped us from finishing both that excavation and the geophysics survey, but we have an excellent drawn survey done. 
Garden Excavation: before the weather turned against us one test-pit was completed in a garden in the Magdalen Road area. The results were fascinating. During the inter-war period, and probably during the Second World War, the owners were enthusiastically Digging for Victory – leaving an incredibly well manured vegetable plot soil with evidence for keeping domestic animals – chickens, perhaps pigs. Before the house was built in the later 19th century the old maps showed the area as a blank of fields but the excavation suggested that people had been living on the spot or very near. These unrecorded families had perhaps chosen to settle on the common land of Cowley Open Fields – this sort of informal ‘squatter’ settlement was not unusual and is described by 19th century novelists. Of course being close to Oxford would have been attractive for families attempting to survive on the margins.
The humanly influenced soils were so deep we could not reach the bottom!
Please let us know if you would like to dig a little trench in your garden. We will come round with equipment to train and help you to excavate and record your mini-dig as it should be done. And everything is returned to the way it was before! Each mini-dig adds to the big picture.
Ark-T Centre: The Project will be doing some small excavations in March in the two gardens here before a new outdoor Play Space is built. In preparation we had an excellent day on 13 February with a small team of volunteers studying the old maps, reading the old archaeological reports – mainly dealing with Roman sites in the area with a little bit of information about the medieval manors and earlier archaeology – and doing both a drawn survey and a survey with the new GPS. Amongst other things our map team discovered the modern map is wrong; confirmed that Crowell Road is an old, probably at least medieval, route way, studied the old walls and thought about questions to ask when we look at the older maps in College archives. Interestingly both a pump and a well were recorded in the area of the gardens – was there a spring there?
We are now looking forward to excavating at Ark-T on 19-20 March.
Geophysics: the geophysics team have begun work with two locations in Iffley; a number of you are getting pretty good at this! We are waiting for the results. Please let us know if you would like to join the team as we have lots of work to do in a great range of locations. Contact:
‘Hot-spot’ Weekends: The Sunday of map work and survey at Ark-T was so successful we intend to hold the same sort of day/weekend in all the other archaeological hotspots. We will let you know, but the idea will be to combine studying the old maps and existing information with some survey to start the ball rolling in each area. So including: Blackbird leys, Littlemore, Iffley, Temple Cowley etc. Watch this space – or nominate your area!
Coming soon
We will be:
  • Continuing work on test-pits and survey at Bartlemas.
  • Going on a first visit to Christchurch’s archive, concentrating on Church Cowley – the college owned a large amount of land in our area in the nineteenth century.
  • Taking a first group to the National Monuments Record in Swindon.
  • Continuing the garden excavations, geophysics and surveys.
  • Having a first look at the East Oxford collections of objects stored in the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums.
See you all soon
The Project Team
Any questions or to register for talks, the geophysics, maps or excavation teams