Five miles east of Banbury, the Oxford University Archaeological Society have been doing something that is rather unusual for them, that is, excavating a Roman Villa, under the direction of Ian Sanders. This is near Thenford (Northants) (SP525415) where a rather fine mosaic, probably of mid-4th century date, was found and the O.U.A.S. was invited to excavate it. The mosaic is in a corridor with a fine female bust at the centre and geometric panels at either end. Adjacent to it is a room with a hypocaust of unusual design so that one wondered whether it ever worked. Also in this building was a simple three room bath suite added on to the northern end. To the south there is an earlier building of unknown extent. Like most other villas now there is evidence of 5th century occupation, in the form of a courtyard laid over the levelled remains of the buildings.
M40 AND then there has been the motorway. Though there has only been 9 miles of it so far, this has proved ideal for Oxford archaeologists to flex their motor way muscles. The M40 began off as the much needed High Wycombe bypass, but then a grandiose scheme was put forward to make the High Wycombe bypass into the London to Birmingham motorway.
This involved problems, for the bypass ends just before the magnificent northern escarpment of the Chilterns where the present road makes a magnificent though unobtrusive descent. Motorways, alas,
are not unobtrusive, and all possible routes from the end of the High Wycombe bypass were abominable. Eventually they chose a route that runs parallel to the present A40, only a couple of hundred yards away, which will link up with the dual carriagewaystretching out from Oxford. But by the time the furious passions aroused by the route were settled, the M40 Archaeological Research Group was ready, and led by Max Davies, a retired oil executive, Trevor Rowley, the Extra-Mural Tutor for Oxford, and Mick Aston, of the City and County Museum, they have carried out what is perhaps the best motorway rescue dig yet. An interim report entitled Archaeology and the M40 Motorway has already been published, and is available from Rewley House, Wellington Square, Oxford, for 30p post free.
The most interesting site proved to be one that was missed in the initial investigations, and was only discovered when the scraping for the motorway began. This was at Heath Farm on Milton Common where six round houses of an Iron Age village were observed, and others undoubtedly missed. Iron Age occupation extended for almost half a mile along the motorway. Trevor Rowley was able to excavate one of these houses, revealing three phases dating from middle to late Iron Age, and concluding with some fine Belgic wares. It was built of wattle and daub with uprights set in a narrow gully 20 cms. wide. As it was discovered so late, the other five houses had to be sacrificed to the bulldozer. Two morals can be drawn: firstly, the most intensive preliminary surveys can miss a site which fails to show up on the air photos ; and secondly, the position has important implications. Hitherto prehistoric settlements have been found mainly down on the river gravels, but Milton Common showed that the upland glacial gravels were equally densely occupied by prehistoric and early Saxon settlers.