Page Text

Drawing one of the Saxons buried at Berinsfield.

tion was laid on. The local amateur groups were alerted and 25 to 30 skeletons were excavated that very weekend. By the end of the first week 70 had been uncovered, and when the excavation was completed a week later just over 100 in all had been excavated.

It was not one of the very richest cemeteries, for there were no sword burials (since the wearing of weapons was strictly regulated in Saxon England, sword burials always indicate the richest class). Nevertheless the new cemetery was high in the medium category. Thus there were spears, javelins, knives, shield bosses, together with buckets and beads for the women, and two square headed brooches. It was dated mainly to around 550 AD, though there were some earlier remains. The graves were all aligned on and cut into a late Roman ditch system. The richest grave was that of a female buried with two saucer brooches, a large square headed brooch, 128 amber and glass beads and a bronze bucket.

The superb organisation of the Oxfordshire Unit took such a cemetery in its stride. David Miles, the second in command of the unit was the formal director, but much of the work was delegated. Thus David Brown of the Ashmolean Museum was press ganged into reporting on the finds, while Gwyn Miles, who just happens by one of those fortunate coincidences to be David's wife, was borrowed from the Ashmolean to do the conservation, and spent much of her time on the site. One of the draughtsmen was taken away from her drawing board to prepare the plans on site, while the photography was in the hands of John Cowan, a leading fashion photographer who lives in nearby Wallingford and volunteered to do the photography, intending to write an account of archaeological photography for the Amateur Photographer. At most there were some 35 diggers on site, of whom about 20 were local volunteers, mostly from the south Oxfordshire and Abingdon Societies.

The discovery of the cemetery brought a very gratifying response from the gravel company. Ameys have a long tradition of cooperation with archaeologists in the Oxfordshire region, but in recent years they have been merged into the Amalgamated Roadstone Corporation, who in turn are now part of the Consolidated Goldfields. Conscious of the problems caused by gravel extraction, they have given £5,000 this year to the Oxfordshire Unit, a grant not tied in any way. Hearing of the remarkable finds, the public relations officer paid a visit, and hopes to show some of the finds in the company's annual report. Then the managing director of ARC, himself a keen amateur historian, paid a visit. Finally, the chairman of Consolidated Goldfields himself came down, said to be the first time that he had ever visited one of the gravel pits. David Miles had the satisfaction of spending most of a day driving round Oxfordshire with the Chairman in his Rolls Royce showing him his gravel pits!

The cemetery, however, did not exhaust the powers of the Unit. Being in the area I also visited another site where Michael Parrington was digging, at nearby Abingdon. This was at the Ashville Trading Estate, adjacent to the MG car factory; on one side of the fence there was a vast car park filled with gleaming shiny new MG's, on the other side of the fence were the archaeologists, busy excavating an Iron Age round house settlement. The surprising aspect of the site was the number of grain deposits—greater by far than that at any other site so far excavated anywhere in the country; virtually every feature contained grain in its backfill. Thus the site presents unique potential for studying the problems of the interpretation of carbonised deposits and for drawing conclusions on crop husbandry on an Iron Age site. Martin Jones, the botanist is seizing his opportunity with both hands. Only a part of the site has been excavated so far, and should the new factory estate be delayed (as seems likely in the present economic conditions) it may well be possible to excavate much more of it.


P ROBABLY the most exten­ sive excavations in 1974 have been those in London carried out by the Guildhall Museum's De­ partment of Urban Archaeology, now in full swing under Brian Hobley. Of the various sites that have been excavated throughout the City, the most important have been those down by the river. The Biddle/Hudson report on The Future of London's Past made it clear that the deepest and best preserved deposits were likely to be those down by the river, and the current construction of a dual