22nd January 2013:

A series of significant historical findings have recently been uncovered at Taylor Wimpey’s Great Western Park development in Didcot, as part of Oxford Archaeology’s investigations for the leading housebuilder.A flint arrowhead

Hundreds of flint artefacts dating back over 9,000 years to the early Mesolithic period, carefully excavated from a rare ‘in-situ’ deposit, have enabled archaeologists to trace Didcot’s history back much further than previously recorded. These were deposited by hunter-gatherers in a hollow with evidence of associated campfires.

The Neolithic bowlThe investigations in 2011 had previously found other early prehistoric finds including a complete Neolithic bowl of the earliest farmers (dating to c.3600 BC). The excavations in 2012 then revealed a rare example of a late Neolithic to early Bronze Age ‘pond-barrow’ (of about 2,000 BC) on the east edge of the development. This comprised a stone floored circular depression with a 6-post platform structure on one side.

The pond barrow was probably used for mortuary ceremonies, with exposure of the dead to the elements on the raised platform. Several superbly made flint arrowheads and other flint items were placed within the barrow, probably as offerings. Three Bronze Age post-built round-houses were found to either side of the barrow and both the barrow and these slightly later houses were enclosed within a large ditched enclosure. These houses may date between about 1500 and 1200 BC.

The 2010-11 excavations had also included investigation of a large hillcrest Iron Age settlement to the west of Stephen Freeman School comprising between 40 and 60 roundhouses.  There was also hundreds of grain storage pits, several quarries, human burials, domestic rubbish and dumps of pottery and animal bones associated with feasting. This site indicates that the population of Didcot really started to flourish during this period with the establishment of a village sized settlement. An Iron Age pit containing animal bones, the remains of feasting

Moving into Roman times, there is evidence of a late Iron Age to Roman farmstead settlement, including ditched farmyard for stock, several wells and six ‘corn drying ovens’.  In the late Roman period, a modest stone walled villa with a hypocaust (under-floor heating) was located and partially excavated on the north side of Wantage Road, south of, and deliberately avoiding, the Iron Age village. The villa would have had a ceramic tile and stone roof tile roof and replaced round-houses, with probable thatched roofs that had continued to be used into the Roman period at this site. 

Taylor Wimpey has carefully redesigned the perimeter road around the new ‘Boundary Park’ playing fields to avoid damaging the villa remains which will be preserved for the future. Other findings have included an Anglo-Saxon sunken-floored building of the 5th or 6th century north-west of Zulu Farm possibly indicating the ‘coming of the English’ to Didcot.

One of Didcot's six Roman corn-drying ovensRob Phelps, Technical Director for Taylor Wimpey continued: “The archaeological work at Great Western Park has revealed some extremely interesting and significant findings that otherwise would have remained unknown.  We are eager to safeguard this window to the past - much of the Roman farmstead for instance, will be preserved under sports pitches. Our intention is for the development to provide homes for generations to come in Didcot, just as the site has done for thousands of years.”

Rob Masefield (Director of Archaeology & Historic Environment) from RPS Planning who are managing the archaeological works said: “This has been one of the largest and most significant archaeological projects to have taken place in Oxfordshire in recent years with results that provide a detailed historical narrative for Didcot and the surrounding area that extends back deep into prehistory. Some of the findings may be regarded as ‘type-sites’ for archaeological study for the country as a whole. None of these important findings would have been possible without the backing and logistical support provided by Taylor Wimpey.”

The majority of archaeological works at Great Western Park are now complete although further smaller studies will continue as the development grows.