Secrets of the past unearthed at Stroud building site
Archaeologists have unearthed remains of the earliest known Roman settlement in the Five Valleys including more than a dozen human burials near Stroud.
The find, which is thought to date back to the mid-to-late 1st Century, was excavated at Fox’s Field, just off Ebley Road in Ebley, where the land is being prepared before work starts to build 200 homes.
Artefacts including a sizeable iron cleaver, a stone crop dryer and a coin dating back to around 324 AD have been discovered by Cirencester-based Cotswold Archaeology.
More evidence of even earlier activity was also found dating from within the late Neolithic, early Bronze Age and late Iron Age periods. The main discovery was that of a large rectangular enclosure approached by a well-used path leading down from nearby Doverow Hill.
This contained the crop dryer and more than 300 pits and postholes, four of which were heavily scorched and may have been used for small-scale iron working.
A total of 13 human burials were excavated from within the enclosure, the best preserved of which contained two skeletons lying side by side in an embracing position.
Other graves were in varying conditions and some had been damaged by medieval ploughing.
The majority of the remains appeared to have been laid directly in the graves and it is thought the bodies were dressed in simple shrouds.
The discovery of iron nails around the exterior of two of the graves suggests those bodies were buried in coffins, while the presence of hobnails by the feet of three of the individuals indicates they were laid to rest wearing shoes – a commonplace practice in rural communities in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD.
One of the remains was found with a coin dating from around 324 AD close to the mouth, a customary act at the time to allow the deceased to pay the ferryman Charon for safe passage across the River Styx in the afterlife.
Other notable finds include unidentifiable lead objects, drinking beakers and a 'tree throw' dating back to around 2600 – 1800 BC, this is a bowl-shaped shelter in the ground created after a tree has been blown over or pulled out.
Study of the finds is expected to last up to a year, after which Cotswold Archaeology has agreed to donate the artefacts to the Museum in the Park in Stroud. The bones will be reburied near the site.
Cliff Bateman, project manager at Cotswold Archaeology, said: "We previously knew of the Roman settlements at Standish, Frocester and Eastington, as well as the famous mosaic at Woodchester, so the current findings continue to show how densely populated the Stroud area was in the Roman period.
"Most of our work is undertaken in advance of developments such as this but are usually carried out throughout the whole of the country, so to work locally in the Stroud Valleys was obviously exciting."
Archaeologist have now finished the excavation and work has resumed on the housing development by Barratt Homes.