the Saxon burh is yet to be determined, these discoveries add intriguing evidence to the debate, suggesting that its outline extended at least as far west as the river.
Constructing the castle Anglo-Saxon burhs were high-status centres, and the arrival of the Normans elevated Oxford still further. The Castle was built in 1071 by Robert d’Oilly, a companion of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, who was rewarded for his loyalty with extensive estates in the Thames Valley. Although few of its medieval features survive above ground, contemporary accounts combined with excavated remains conjure a vivid picture of how impressive the castle must have been.
Its motte, which measures 15m tall and 60m wide at the base, was surrounded by a deep ditch, beyond which lay a bailey that medieval surveys describe as being crowded with buildings. The bailey itself was encircled by a clay-capped rampart and an outer ditch some 5-6m deep and 35m wide in places. These fortifications would have dominated the early medieval landscape, an effect further enhanced in the 12th century when stone walls and towers were added to the outer circuit, and a shell keep was built on top of the motte.
Although only the motte and parts of the castle’s chapel survive above the surface, archaeological work has unpicked some details of how the castle developed. Excavation of the motte revealed that it had been constructed in two main stages, each involving the dumping of large quantities of gravel, which was then capped with clay. On the summit, further investigations confirmed the presence of a ten-sided stone tower that is shown in early depictions of the castle but was removed or fell down during the Civil War, while, at the base, some 30m of the ditch that once encircled the mound have also been explored.
Thanks to the diverse medieval rubbish that had been dumped into the ditch during the castle’s occupation, we can imagine some of the elite residence’s furnishings. The floors of its higher-status spaces bore colourful tiles with images including a double-headed eagle within a scalloped border (a motif also known from Oxford Cathedral),
quatrefoils, and concentric circles; at least some of its windows were glazed; and two fragments of distinctive green glass hint at the use of hanging lamps, a particularly costly form of illumination associated with ecclesiastical and elite secular sites.
Food and fashion Surprisingly, for a high-status site, there was no imported Continental pottery or other evidence that wine was being consumed at the castle, but the large quantities of animal bone that emerged from the ditch reveal the diet that its occupants enjoyed. Layers dating from the 11th and 12th centuries yielded plenty of chicken and goose bones, as well as moreprestigious birds, including quail, partridge, white stork, crane, and swan. The discovery of a sparrowhawk bone also points to the castle’s inhabitants practising falconry, a pastime associated with the upper echelons of medieval society.
Sheep/goat bones were the mostcommon animal species, but meatbearing bones from cattle were in such abundance that the project team suggests extra cows may have been brought in to supplement the beef that the castle estate could provide. The prevalence of pig bones is also characteristic of high-status medieval sites: at this time, pigs were kept only as food, so their presence in large numbers points to significant pork consumption. This was supplemented by smaller amounts of venison (from red and roe deer), rabbits, and hares, as well as fish and eels (mainly freshwater left Excavating the Norman motte – one of the largest in the country – during consolidation works in 2008.