Celebrating 5 years with the Wiltshire Archaeology Service

on Monday, 02 October 2017. Posted in Archaeology

At the end of August I celebrated five years with the archaeology team here at the History Centre in Chippenham.  I thought this a suitable milestone in which to reflect on some of the most exciting discoveries in the central part of Wiltshire (the area I cover), discovered through the advice we give on planning applications.

The Government set out its requirements for the planning system in the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012.  Section 12 deals with conserving and enhancing the historic environment.  The advice we give on planning applications follows this guidance which needs to be relevant, proportionate and necessary. It is important to understand the significance of heritage assets impacted by development, which is why we ask for a proportionate level of investigation to be undertaken prior to determining applications.  Various stages of investigation are carried out. To begin with an archaeological Desk Based Assessment (DBA) pulls together existing information, using as a baseline the Historic Environment Record and other sources where available such as historic maps, aerial photographs, field surveys and site assessment.  The DBA helps to establish the potential for archaeological remains to be present within a development site. Sometimes, there is little existing information available because there have been few investigations within the area.  In such cases geophysical survey is a useful method for revealing unknown archaeological remains within a site.  We get greyscale plots and interpretation plans to help understand what potentially is of archaeological origin. In most cases we ask for trial trench evaluation following geophysical survey. Trial trenching enables us to understand the significance of the archaeological remains which will be impacted by development.  Depending on the heritage asset’s significance (to use NPPF terminology) we may ask for a site to be preserved in situ i.e. not impacted by development, or preserved by record i.e. it gets excavated, the remains assessed and then reported and/or published. The following examples show previously unknown settlements which have been found through such methods.

Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2015 which discovered a number of features dating to the Romano-British period including a number of trackways and ditches. The site has yet to be developed.

Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2014 which confirmed the presence of a Romano-British settlement. The site is currently being excavated, more detail to follow.


At another site in Melksham, a geophysical survey identified a number of features and the trial trench evaluation confirmed remains dating to the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods. The site has yet to be developed.

Geophysical survey across a large proposed development site highlighted two sites of particular interest.  Trial trench evaluation confirmed a concentration of early Romano-British ditched enclosures associated with trackways and pits and posthole features which appear to represent settlement remains. The relationship between the two sites is of interest. More ephemeral prehistoric activity was represented in other parts of the site which the geophysical survey did not pick up.




Bradford on Avon prehistoric settlement
May 2013 excavation on a plateau overlooking the River Avon on the eastern edge of Bradford-on-Avon revealed prehistoric and Romano-British remains. The majority of features related to an Iron Age settlement which originated as two or more post-built structures in the Earliest Iron Age, between the 9th–7th centuries BC, and developed through to the Early to Middle Iron Age with a rectangular enclosure superseded by a settlement with roundhouses and a curved boundary ditch. An Early Roman ditch respected the alignment of the later Iron Age boundary, but Late Iron Age pottery was absent and it is unclear whether or not there was direct continuity from the Iron Age into the Roman period.

Romano-British roadside settlement near Beanacre
During the installation of a double circuit electric cable an archaeological Watching Brief recovered a large amount of pottery during the stripping of the easement.  Following this a Strip, map and sample excavation in March and April 2015 recorded an extensive Roman roadside settlement. The settlement lay along the line of the road between the Roman towns of Aquae Sulis (Bath) and Cunetio (Mildenhall) which existed by the second half of the 1st century AD.  The road existed as 7m wide and 0.4m deep hollow-way flanked by thin spreads of gravel which continued in use till the post-medieval period. Several buildings, burials and enclosures were excavated and recorded. One of the most characteristic features of the site was the profusion of ovens, 41 in total, all but two of which appear to date from the mid-Roman period.  Analysis of environmental samples suggests they were used for cooking and possible malting.  Particularly, the production of roast pork and bread appears to have been an important part of the settlement’s economy, maybe taking advantage of the passing trade.   The most notable of the finds were two small stone altars (possibly part of a roadside temple) a few metres north of the road, close to an unusual dog burial and a stone-lined well. The settlement appears to have been abandoned by the 4th century.

Rachel Foster, Assistant County Archaeologist

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